The passing of an all-time great person and athlete is bound to touch millions – if not billions – of people, because of that unparalleled ability sport has to affect people from all over the world and all walks of life, and we’re certainly seeing evidence of that at the moment.
Quite why the passing of a legend of a sport that almost nobody plays nor understand in Wales has affected me and so many others in this country so greatly, however, is a testament to the truly remarkable life of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, whose attitude towards life – his ‘Mamba Mentality’ – was enough to drastically alter my own and so many others.
As a 13-year-old boy, watching clips of this freakishly awesome athlete dominating a sport that I’d never played nor watched in a part of the world that I had no real awareness of, honestly changed my life.
Inspiration is a magical thing, and it’s funny how it works. I usually has to be tied to something you can relate to in order to truly have an impact, especially at a younger age, but on the face of it at the time there was very little I could relate to about Kobe.
A 6ft 6 African American dominating a sport that I didn’t understand and is still a minor sport in Wales to this day doesn’t sound like something I should have been able to relate to.
But what he did always have was an unstoppable drive and focus on one thing, which some people will crudely say is winning. But his one goal every day to me was being the best version of Kobe Bryant that he could be – winning at a historic rate just happened to be a handy by-product of that!
Whether he was playing well or not, that guy was going to give everything to get to where he wanted to go and to achieve his goals. And as a young teenager at the time who didn’t have much direction in life, seeing that from Kobe was truly transformational and it is no exaggeration to say that what I learnt from studying that amazing competitor and man has helped turn me into the person I am today.
No, that doesn’t mean I’m a professional basketball player, and nor was it ever going to, but that’s not what Kobe gave me. The point is that Kobe, through basketball, helped me believe I could achieve whatever I set my mind to.
Basketball introduced me to some amazing people at a really important time of my life – people I now consider as family. And what Kobe did was give me the confidence to walk through that gym door and a lot of what I’ve managed to accomplish in my life since then has been because of those experiences I had once I got in there. And from speaking to some great friends over the last couple of days, it is glaringly obvious that I’m not the only one that Kobe had this affect on.
I’m still at that gym to this day, but now as a coach, working alongside a fantastic group of people. We all bring our own things to the table and try to give these young people their own self belief and confidence to achieve whatever their dreams are, in the same way Kobe did for me and the likes of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson did for others.
Kobe brought me to basketball, and to quote the man himself, basketball taught me how important it is to love what you do. If you do, all the hard work and perseverance will pay off. Always be curious, always seek out the things you love, and always work hard once you find them.
That’s a mindset that can inspire not only an individual but an entire nation. What could Wales achieve if we all had the same attitude to life as Kobe Bryant.
Thank you, Kobe, for everything.