• I never thought that I’d be writing something like this.

    Before I get into everything though, I want to truly thank everyone here at Hoop-Ball for allowing me to share something so close to my heart. Bruski took a chance on me when I was just a freshman in college without much experience and now here I am, three years later, about to graduate in a couple of months knowing so much more about the realm of sports journalism.

    It’s been a little bit over twenty-four hours since the news broke that my idol, Kobe Bryant, perished in a helicopter crash along with his little girl GiGi and 7 others and it still doesn’t feel real.

    I feel like I haven’t done enough in mourning him, that there has to be something else that I can do to let the world know just how much he meant to me. So here I am expressing myself in the only way that really seems right for me. I can’t promise that this story will be coherent or follow some sort of timeline or even be easy to read, but I can guarantee that it’s the realest thing that I’ve ever written.

    Yesterday I found out that my superhero was dead, how do you react to something like that?

    Reading through a ten-inch screen that the man who fostered your love for basketball is no longer alive, that he passed away in a helicopter crash all so suddenly. Even now the words aren’t flowing easily for me because I truly don’t think that there is any one way that can depict how I felt. There was a pit in my stomach, a pain in my chest. I felt like I lost a member of my family.

    He transcended the sport. He wasn’t just basketball royalty but he was an icon renowned around the world, a living legend.

    We all know that Kobe wasn’t a perfect man, but he never claimed to be. Honestly, what made him so amazing was that he knew he wasn’t. He worked tirelessly to improve himself every single day and he instilled a work ethic inside of millions of people that won’t ever be forgotten or lost.

    I so badly wished that I had gotten to see more of him on a basketball court. Neither one of my parents was into sports and, as a result, I didn’t become a fan of basketball until one of my friends introduced me to the sport through video games, which — ironically enough — had Kevin Garnett on the cover. I had no clue who anyone was. I told my friend to just tell me which team is good so that I could learn the game and, fatefully, he selected the Lakers.

    That was back in December of 2008 when the Lakers were in the midst of their revenge season after losing to the Celtics in the previous Finals. Since then, I fell in love with the sport of basketball and the way that Kobe Bryant played it. I was lucky enough to witness his last two rings and I remember exactly where I was when Ron Artest knocked down that triple off of a Kobe assist right in Paul Pierce’s eye to seal the 2010 championship. I’m so eternally grateful for those moments and yet I find myself wishing I had somehow seen more of them.

    I never got to see him put up 81 points on Jalen Rose in live action or see him bang it on Yao Ming or even see a Kobe to Shaq alley-oop in the Finals. Of course, I’ve watched them on YouTube over the years but there’s something about seeing it live, seeing your hero do what seems impossible over and over again for the world to see that I’ll just never be able to experience.

    I was what would be considered a “nerdy” kid in middle school — really short, perpetually wearing some very unattractive glasses and yet watching him somehow made me feel like I was the coolest kid in the world.

    He gave me confidence, he gave me an identity — Kobe Bryant changed my life.

    Here I am now with aspirations of being a sports journalist one day and the kernel of that ambition was created because of him. At just 21-years-old, there’s already been so many times that I’ve wanted to quit and give it all up because it’s so hard to make it in this field, but Kobe wouldn’t want me to. Sometimes I feel like this whole journalism thing isn’t for me and get discouraged by the large following that others have compared to my own, but Kobe would want me to just charge it to the game.

    So that’s what I do.

    Whenever I feel like I’ve been knocked down, I get back up because the Mamba would do the same. I watched that man tear his Achilles, get back up on his own accord, walk to the free throw line dragging his foot and cash two free throws for his team all before walking back to the locker room. If Kobe can stand on one of the most gruesome injuries in sports, I can keep pushing to achieve my dream.

    I think that my fondest memory of him would be the 60-point final game.

    I remember being so nervous before the game started because I was afraid that he’d have a horrible shooting night and finish with like 10 points on 30 shots or something. I should’ve known that he wasn’t going to go out sorry like that. I watched as my idol left every last ounce of effort he had on that court and, although we only won 17 games that year, it felt like a damn NBA championship to me.

    We hadn’t seen that Kobe in a while and for one last time he gave us a show. He showed us that 17-year-old kid that came into the league and ultimately became every team’s nightmare. He showed us the Black Mamba. Some people might criticize it and say that it took him 50 shots but, honestly, who cares? Teamwork be damned! Kobe was going to go out on top and that’s why we loved him.

    No matter who the opponent is or how hard the challenge might be, Kobe taught me that if you keep going, you can become unstoppable. I’ve never been to LA. I grew up and have lived in Queens, New York my entire life and that’s a testament to how far his message reached. I’ll be going to the City of Angels for the first time in mid-February and it’s going to mean so much more now.

    My Uncle Lorenzo lived in LA and he was a huge Kobe fan, whenever we’d speak it would always be about how the Lakers were doing. Whenever he would come to New York he’d swear to me that when I come to visit him he’d take me to Staples Center to see a Lakers game. Unfortunately, he passed away last year and I never got to see that game with him but I know that when I finally stand outside of Staples he’ll be standing right there beside me taking in the view.

    “You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart.”

    You gave us that and so much more Kobe. I will forever be grateful that I got to witness your time on this Earth. I thank you so much for making me the man that I am today. Thank you for teaching me that there’s nothing that I can’t overcome and no hill that I can’t climb. Thank you for infusing within me a work ethic that no one will ever be able to break.

    You will forever be my G.O.A.T., my idol, my hero and the reason that I fell in love with basketball. I hope that you and GiGi meet my Uncle Lorenzo up there because you meant just as much to him and you did to me.

    Forever and Always,

    Najee

    #ForeverMamba #824

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