January 28, 2020 — by Kevin Sze


It’s Jan. 26, and my phone vibrates as I receive a notification from the New York Times. 

I take a brief glance, and then my heart stops. The headline reads “N.B.A. Star Kobe Bryant Dies in California Helicopter Crash.”

I stare at the headline a little longer in disbelief and then I immediately Google “Kobe Bryant.”

As I scroll through the news sites reporting Bryant’s death, I feel like I’m in a nightmare. Just a week ago, I was watching former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson interview Bryant in his house.

He seemed so alive as he reminisced about his time with the Los Angeles Lakers, talked about his family and discussed his goals for the future.

I just couldn’t believe in an instant, one of the greatest basketball players to ever live was gone. 

The accident happened in Calabasas around noon. Bryant and eight others were on their way to Mamba Sports Academy when the helicopter made a rapid dive into a hillside. Bryant’s second oldest daughter, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant, was killed in the accident as well. 

Minutes after the heart-wrenching news broke, hundreds of fans stood outside of the Staples Center to pay tribute to the five-time NBA champion, 2008 MVP and 18-time All Star. 

Bryant inspired millions through his love for competition and his unrelenting intensity during his 20-year run with the Los Angeles Lakers. 

Personally, Bryant’s life has inspired and motivated me as a student athlete who has juggled the workload at Saratoga High and the rigorous schedule of competitive golf.

As a kindergartner, I remember watching Bryant play on Christmas Day, sitting fixated, with my eyes on the TV as Bryant’s full offensive prowess went on display. Fadeaways, crossovers, stepback jumpers and ferocious dunks. At the time, I told myself that I wanted to dominate on the basketball court just like Bryant. That was, of course, before I realized I would only grow to be 5’11” and be limited to a 15” vertical. 

When I began to play golf in third grade, I would show up at the golf course and nobody would want to play with me. I was the only Asian kid, and I was at least three years younger than the other kids at the golf course.

Around that time, I began to listen to interviews from Bryant. I was obsessed with the “Mamba Mentality,” a term Bryant coined to describe the level of focus and relentless approach he took both in preparation and competition. 

In one of his interviews, Bryant talked about moving to Italy when he was 6 years old. He described a situation that paralleled mine. None of the Italian kids wanted to play with him because he looked different. Instead of resorting to self-pity, Bryant began to develop the Mamba Mentality and promised that he would make every kid pay for their disrespect by practicing every day and improving his basketball skills. 

I took his message and applied it to my situation, oftentimes practicing golf by myself until sundown. 

As I grew older and schoolwork became more rigorous, I took inspiration from Bryant’s daily routine.

During Bryant’s historic run with the Lakers, he would often wake up at 3 a.m. to begin his day and play basketball for 8 hours a day. 

“You want to train as much as you can, as often as you can.” Bryant said in an interview. “So now you [wake up at 3 a.m. and train eight hours a day], and as the years go on the separation that you have with your competitors and your peers just grows larger and larger and larger and larger.”

Motivated by Bryant’s work ethic, I began waking up at 5:30 a.m. last year to workout before school. After school, I would go straight to the golf course and practice until sundown. Once I got home, I quickly ate dinner and locked myself in my room to finish my homework. 

I did this during the entire second semester of my junior year. I rarely went out with my friends, I missed winter formal and junior prom and I never attended a high school party. 

By the end of the school year, my body and my golf game were in the best shape they had ever been. 

At the beginning of my junior year, I was ranked around 800 junior  players in the world. By the end of the summer in between my junior and senior years, I had climbed into the top 100. By the end of 2019, I committed to play Division I golf at Harvard University. 

My improvement came from hard work, but more importantly, the influence and inspiration Bryant had. If I hadn’t heard about his time in Italy, his daily routine during the Lakers’ championship run, or any of the other crazy stories of Bryant’s work ethic, I would have never made it to where I am today. 

Bryant was the reason I didn’t quit when things weren’t going my way because I always told myself, “if Kobe can do it, so can I.” 

Like the millions of Kobe fans around the world, I am blessed to have watched him play and hear his life experiences. 

As Bryant once said, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.”

Bryant inspired me and I’m sure millions of others, to have the Mamba Mentality and be the best versions of ourselves every day. 

Heroes come and go, but legends are forever. Thank you, Kobe.

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