by Cody J. Elms
We are surrounded by and consumed with numbers. They are truly universal. Most of the time these numbers are what they are. A numerical value or representation of something very black and white. However, occasionally, there are numbers that have more depth to them. The signify something meaningful, powerful, and sometimes tragic. They carry more weight. They hold us up, break us down, push us forward, and help us remember. With Kobe Bryant’s passing, some may believe that it’s just another athlete or celebrity leaving this world too soon, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
8 & 24 – Kobe Bryant dawned the number 8 upon his entry into the NBA. The 8 Kobe was hungry, he was young, and he was determined to prove that despite coming into the league as an 18-year-old kid fresh out of high school, that he didn’t just belong in the NBA, he was there to make an impact. This Kobe had doubters about whether he could do it. Then this Kobe, number 8 Kobe did it. The number 24 Kobe was a different animal. He was growth and leadership. This Kobe was not going to be defined by making it, he wanted to be defined by owning it. Kobe Bryant while wearing the number 24 was determined to be one of the greatest to ever play the game. His new doubters said he couldn’t win it all without Shaq, then he did…twice.
Both versions of Kobe Bryant carry a different meaning and a different message. This is why so many athletes and people in general find inspiration from Kobe. Few players have been able to have a hard line between their different eras of play, but Kobe managed to not just do that with the number change, but with his character development and growth as an athlete. Today, both numbers are retired by the Los Angeles Lakers.
81 – In a comeback victory over the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006, Kobe Bryant scored 81 points to be only the second NBA player of all time to cross the 80-point threshold, behind only Wilt Chamberlain who put up 100. The performance was one that has only become more incredible and impressive with time. It’s been over a decade since that game, and yet no one, not even Lebron or Curry have put on such a show. The accolade itself is something of legend, but it was Kobe’s mindset during the game, that was always who he was.
Recently Kobe Bryant told ESPN.com, “It’s really a testament to the power of imagination, honestly. There’s a log of players who come up now who don’t think 80 points is possible. You think 50, and if you’re really hot – 60. I never had that limit. Ever. I never, ever thought that way. I always thought 80 was possible. I thought 90 was possible. I thought 100 was possible. Always. I think that game is a testament to what happens when you put no ceiling to what you’re capable of doing.”
When people ask why is this player, this celebrity, so different, that quote would be your answer. All a young kid, whether he or she wants to be an athlete, a doctor, a teacher, or the President, needs to see is what allowed Kobe to mentally overcome all of the imaginary barriers. For decades, no one did what Kobe did that night in 2006, and for potentially decades more no one will again. There was no guarantee that Kobe Bryant would accomplish what he did, but he know from day one that it was possible, and that was all he needed to get to work. That was all the younger generation watching then and those re-watching now will ever need.
13 – As far as deeper meanings, this may be the number that is affecting people the most. Gianna “Gigi” Bryant was Kobe’s second oldest daughter, and what some would call his basketball heir. She was just 13-years old. Few in the public would be able to responsibly explain the details of their bond, but from what the public has seen, it was much more than basketball. Just a few months after Kobe’s 81-point game, Gigi came into this world. Just days after that same 81-point game’s 14-year anniversary, she has left it. It was no coincidence that in her lifetime, her father developed from a player on the Lakers into an icon around the world. It was never because of what he won; it was because who he had become. Becoming a parent will change you forever. It adds an unexplainable element to your very existence. This is the case for so many incredible and driven parents that I have been fortunate enough to know in my lifetime. Each and every one of them will reference their children as their reason for striving, for believing, for trying desperately to make the world a better place for their children to grow up in. Even if their impact is small. They give them that push to be a better person, to set an example. The endgame is always important, but the work put in to get to that point will always have more of an impact on the eyes watching us. Gigi saw this hard work in her father, and as we have seen in videos shared across social media in the past 24 hours, and will for days to come, she was on the same path, with the same Mamba Mentality. She was truly her father’s daughter.
I have a child. I have nieces and nephews. The loss of someone so young in something we hear in disbelief. Along with Gigi, there were two other teammates of hers that also passed away in the accident. Three kids. Three aspiring athletes. Three souls taken far too soon. Whether it is 13 or 41, Sunday afternoons tragedy reminded us all that our time here on earth is limited. We sometimes see age as just a number, but today it means so much more. We are not immortal, but our presence can be.
Gianna and Kobe Bryant should and will be present in spirit for generations to come. Not just as basketball players. Not just as father and daughter. But as fighters, leaders, motivators, and believers. We all won’t impact the world like them, but this serves as a reminder that we may be the world to someone else. Today, the numbers are more than a value, they are a life, a love, and legacy.