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Opinion: I viewed Kobe Bryant as my own. His uniqueness made others feel the same

Fans loved Kobe Bryant for his mentality and ability. It's that mentality though that truly made people gravitate to his game and life on a personal level.

WASHINGTON — One year ago today, a wife lost a husband and a daughter. Three other daughters lost a father, and a sister. The sports world lost an icon, a role model, and a brother.  

In Kobe Bryant's death, I personally lost a man that I looked at as mine. Put here only for me to watch, in awe and admiration. To draw inspiration from when I'm feeling low.

And while Bryant was born with remarkable natural gifts, he became undeniable through sweat equity, having a work ethic unrivaled by the world's other greatest athletes. A work ethic that saw him get drafted into the league right out of high school and become an NBA all-star in his second year, and then 17 more times in the 20 seasons he graced professional basketball. That same ethic led him to win five championships and put any argument to rest that he wasn't one of the best players in history.

But beyond the multiple titles,18 all-star selections, 15 All-NBA teams,12 all-defensive teams, MVP awards and Olympic gold medals -- beyond all of that -- the reason Kobe meant so much to me is because I didn't feel like I belonged either. When Kobe was breaking into the league I felt every bit as awkward and misplaced as Kobe did on a Philadelphia blacktop. And he gave me an avenue to find that acceptance, through hard work and dedication.

Philadelphia born, but internationally raised, Bryant always seemed like a man apart, which spoke to me. When he would come home from Italy in the summers, taking all of that to the blacktops of Philly, they must’ve looked at him like he had three heads. And I identify with that look. The "what is he doing -- does he belong here" look. 

But he proved that he did. He made them accept him, by being undeniable.

Credit: AP
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant walks down the court during the first half of Bryant's last NBA basketball game, against the Utah Jazz, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

The beautiful thing is, millions of others felt the exact same thing. And over the course of the past year, many of these people came together. Whether it was the memorial at the Grammys, NBA All-Star Weekend, the tribute at Staples Center that stopped the world, or even on social media -- Kobe brought people together, at a time we didn't even know we needed to be.

We didn't know it then, but that was a world we would never see again. Before COVID-19 took hundreds of thousands of lives, before George Floyd, before the Capitol insurrection -- we were all a little more innocent then. Losing Kobe felt like a lifetime benchmark of sadness and one year later it has become a timestamp to a world we can never get back.

So I want to thank Kobe for serving as an inspiration to constantly work harder to be better. If someone as great as Kobe can continue to work to be better, then there is no excuse for the rest of us. I want to thank him for expressing such joy in being a father to his four daughters, leading #GirlDad to become a thing in the year that followed his passing. I want to thank him for giving this nerdy kid hope he could one day reach his potential. 

And I want to thank him for bringing us all together, one last time -- before 2020 did its damndest to tear us apart. 

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