I almost always ask my MoxieTalk guests how they would like to be remembered.
It’s always interesting to hear their answers. Sometimes I get the sense that my guests are not really ready to answer that question. Sometimes, I’m not ready to hear their answers.
On Monday, Feb. 24th, 2020-the date was symbolic for he was in the NBA for 20 years-hence 2020, his Lakers jersey was number 24 and his daughter-Gianna-was number 2. We got to hear how Kobe Bryant is remembered. It was far too soon for those that loved him most to share their memories and insights, and as much as I thought I knew about Kobe I was not ready to hear them.
Kobe and his young daughter Gianna were among those lost when the helicopter they were riding in crashed on a foggy day in late January.
Bryant was a man of legendary, Mamba Mentality moxie. Those who remembered him offered all of us a glimpse into the man behind that moxie. Here’s how:
Moxie is both a student and a teacher.
Bryant wanted to be the best, so he studied the best: Michael Jordan. Jordan defined professional basketball in the 80s and 90s when he led the Chicago Bulls to three back to back NBA championships.
When Bryant declared for the draft in 1996, it made perfect sense that he would look to Jordan for inspiration.
Jordan’s career was drawing to a close just as Bryant’s was firing up. Jordan took Bryant under his wing.
“He wanted to be the best basketball player that he could be,” said Jordan, with tears streaming freely down his face. “And as I got to know him, I wanted to be the best big brother I could be.”
Bryant passed on Jordan’s lessons and more to other players and especially championed women. As the father of four daughters — including budding basketball phenomenon Gigi, who perished with him in the crash — Bryant was passionate about mentoring young players.
“His vision for others is always bigger than what they imagine for themselves. His vision for me was way bigger than my own. More importantly, he didn’t just show up in my life and leave. He stayed. We kept in touch, always texting, calls, game visits,” recalled Sabrina Ionescu of the Oregon Ducks. “He united us. He made it so that the outsiders who outworked everyone else, who were driven to be just a little bit different every single day to make those around them, behind them and above them a little bit better every single day. And they weren’t the exception, they were the rule…
“I wanted to be a part of the generation that changed basketball for Gigi and her teammates. Where being born female didn’t mean being born behind. Where greatness wasn’t divided by gender. ‘You have too much to give to stay silent.’ That’s what he said, that’s what he believed, that’s what he lived.”
Moxie wins respect over rivalry.
You can’t put together a collection of highly-competitive performers and not expect some friction. That was certainly the case with Shaquille O’Neal.
“Kobe and I pushed one another to play some of the greatest basketball of all time and I am proud that no other team has accomplished what the three-peat Lakers have done since the Shaq and Kobe Lakers did it. And sometimes like immature kids, we argued, we fought, we bantered, we assaulted each other with offhand remarks on the field. Make no mistake, even when folks thought we were on bad terms when the cameras are turned off, he and I would throw a wink at each other and say let’s go whoop some a — ,” said O’Neal in his remarks at the memorial.
O’Neal affirmed that he and Bryant maintained a deep respect for one another, and had a strong relationship off court up through Bryant’s untimely death. O’Neal was prepared to speak at Bryant’s induction into the Hall of Fame, but he never imagined speaking at his memorial service.
Moxie isn’t perfect but loves perfectly.
Bryant met his wife, Vanessa, when both of them were still very young. She was just 17. Within six months, they were engaged to be married. His family vehemently opposed the relationship, and it took two years from them to reconcile.
Like many young couples, they stumbled and struggled. Bryant was famously accused of sexually assaulting a hotel clerk in 2003. The charges were dropped, and Bryant’s relationship with Vanessa somehow survived.
In her remarks, Vanessa didn’t remember the basketball superstar. She remembered the dad who gladly took over carpool duties and showed up an hour and twenty minutes before dismissal so he wouldn’t be late. She remembered the husband who wrote her love letters and sent her sweet texts. She remembered the father who could soothe his infant daughter to sleep in his arms in just eight laps up and down the hallway. She remembered the husband who could play at the highest levels imaginable and still have the capacity to worry about her if she was late to the arena to watch him play.
Isn’t that how we all ultimately want to be remembered? It’s not just the headlines and the big plays and the goals we met. Deep down, we all want to be remembered with love by those we loved the most.
Bryant was surely among the greatest to ever play the game, and his moxie led him to accomplish great things. Nobody outworked Kobe Bryant on the court.
But nobody outworked him off the court, either. He saw his flaws and shortcomings and he worked incredibly hard to overcome them. That’s where his legacy will matter most. That takes moxie.