BYU basketball paid tribute to the late Kobe Bryant prior to tip-off against Pepperdine on Jan. 30, much like the rest of the sports world.
Bryant won five NBA championships, made 15 All-Star Game appearances, claimed four All-Star Game MVP awards, clutched two NBA Finals MVP Awards and won a regular-season MVP title in 2008. Yet it wasn’t his accomplishments that made him truly great; it was his mentality.
An article from Bleacher Report listed the top 50 NBA basketball players of all time, placing Bryant at No. 14 on the list. The first sentence to describe Bryant said, “At the heart of Kobe Bryant’s legacy is an unrelenting competitiveness.” Bryant’s section closed with “but that his drive to dominate lasted as long as it did sets Kobe apart. And it was behind any other story or anecdote you may read about him.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released a statement following Bryant’s death. He said that Bryant was “One of the most extraordinary players in the history of our game with accomplishments that are legendary, but he will be remembered most for inspiring people to pick up a basketball and compete to the very best of their ability.”
Silver concluded that Bryant’s mission was to share his basketball knowledge with future generations, especially his daughter Gianna.
People from music artists to football players took to social media to mourn Bryant’s loss. Many claim that he was the inspiration behind their success, including current and former BYU athletes.
Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” ultimately created some of the star athletes in the sports industry today. Many former BYU football and basketball players expressed how Bryant and his mentality inspired them.
Senior power forward Yoeli Childs is one of the many who watched Bryant as a child. When Childs came to BYU, he had to do two-a-day and three-a-day practices and was often exhausted. He attributes his drive to keep going to Bryant.
“I’d think of him and think of his work ethic and how hard he would workout and how he would outwork everyone else,” Childs said. “I would literally think to myself, ‘Kobe is out there working harder than me. I think I’m working hard, but he’s working harder than me. I’ve gotta do more.’”
And Childs’ work is paying off, as he leads BYU in scoring and rebounds, with 21.2 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. Childs said that watching videos of Bryant helped him improve his own game.
“Kobe really made a huge impact on my work ethic,” Childs said. “Growing up, I’d watch him all the time, look him up on YouTube, look up his footwork as a post-player and really try to emulate what he did and take it into my game.”
Senior Dalton Nixon also grew up watching Bryant play. Nixon reminisced on watching Bryant play on Christmas Day for the Lakers, despite being a hard-core Utah Jazz fan.
“I think about Christmas Day games and that was Kobe’s day,” Nixon said. “I wasn’t a huge fan of the Lakers, being a Jazz fan growing up, but I just admired his tenacity and his demeanor on and off the court.”
Nixon also added what Mamba Mentality meant for him and for anyone trying to fulfill dreams as a basketball player.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy asked people on his Twitter account to comment their favorite Bryant moments. He added his own moments, saying, “One of mine has to be Kobe hitting two free throws on a torn Achilles to tie the game!! Can’t imagine the pain he had shootin but he made it look so easy. He inspired generations pure greatness!”
Forward Brandon Davies expressed that he was impacted immensely by Bryant’s death. “Didn’t know Bryant personally but feels like I lost a family member,” Davies tweeted. “I’m sick.”
Bryant’s nickname on the court was “The Black Mamba,” a name that would mean much more later in his life. Because of Bryant’s hard-working nature, the term Mamba Mentality was born.
“His Mamba Mentality is something that stands out to every basketball player,” Nixon said. “You think about little kids growing up, they always wanted to work hard because they saw Kobe work hard. They wanted to stay late after practice or get to the gym early so that they could work hard because they saw Kobe work hard.”
The mentality clearly got Bryant far as he is currently No. 4 on the list of NBA all-time leading scorers. Bryant checks in above decorated player Michael Jordan, but below LeBron James, who stole Bryant’s third-place spot the night before the accident.
A CBS sports article quoted Kevin Durant on how important Mamba Mentality is to him.
“I never wanted to be like Kobe, but I always wanted to have that laser focus, that nothing was getting in the way of what I wanted to do out on the floor,” Durant said. “It was just like, whatever I want to do, I’ma put my mind to it and do it.”
BYU head coach Mark Pope also had some words for Bryant. Pope’s NBA career began at the same time as Bryant’s, as they were in the same draft class in 1996. Bryant was drafted No. 13 overall to the Charlotte Hornets and Pope was drafted No. 52 by the Indiana Pacers. Coach Pope recalled a game when the Milwaukee Bucks and Pope played Bryant and the Lakers in the Staples Center. Bryant had just hit three-straight three’s in three-consecutive possessions.
“Every shot got harder and harder,” Pope said. “The last one, I’ll never forget, he’s in a trap and pivots twice and shoots a fade away where he basically lands in our laps to sink his third three. The things he did on the court were extraordinary.”
But Pope said the best tribute to Bryant is not necessarily about his basketball career.
“The best tribute to Kobe Bryant right now I think is hearing all these stories that nobody ever heard,” Pope said. “Where he went out of his way to extend himself to people. And we all watched in awe of the things he did on the court.”