On Sunday, the sports world was rocked by the devastating news of the death of NBA star and Philadelphia legend Kobe Bryant.
A Philadelphia native, Bryant became a local legend during his time at Lower Merion High School. Although he spent time growing up in Italy, and spent his entire professional career in Los Angeles, Philadelphians will always cherish and be proud to call him one of their own.
Penn men’s basketball freshman guard Lucas Monroe and senior guard Devon Goodman both grew up in Philadelphia suburbs and are proud that they grew up in the same area as Bryant. Bryant was a big part of Goodman’s family growing up, and their dog was even named “Kobe” after Bryant.
“He really represented Philadelphia well,” Monroe said. “The way he approached the game and his hard work and his commitment to the game, I think that really embodies the Philly mentality of working hard and being blue collar.”
Despite his Philadelphia roots, Bryant will forever be most associated with Los Angeles and his 20-year career with the Lakers. Women’s basketball freshman guard Kayla Padilla is from the Los Angeles area and was able to watch Kobe’s career up close.
“We grew up watching him since he was number eight, all the way down till he retired,” Padilla said. “There’s a special connection especially being from L.A. to see his journey of facing adversity and success and bringing happiness and unity to the city.”
Before the five NBA championships, before the 18 All-Star appearances, and before the two Olympic gold medals, Bryant played at the Palestra in 1996. Bryant dropped 29 points to lead Lower Merion to an upset in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 1 High School State semifinals, en route to a state title. After graduating, he was drafted at 17 years old as the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Now 24 years later, Penn men’s and women’s basketball practice and play on that very same court.
“For my favorite athlete, and my favorite player of all time to play in this gym, and now with this tragedy, it makes it a little more special and means a little bit more to me,” junior Jelani Williams said.
Goodman, for one, is not new to playing on courts that Bryant graced. In high school, Bryant played a game at Germantown Academy, Goodman’s high school. Goodman’s coach, Jim Fenerty, actually played in a game against Bryant on that same court.
While Bryant’s physical skills on the court are what shined the most, his “mamba mentality” may be what he is remembered for most. The saying has taken over social media, and has been used by athletes and non-athletes alike. In 2018, Bryant published "The Mamba Mentality: How I Play" about his memories as a player.
In a 2018 Amazon Book Review interview, Bryant described the mamba mentality as being “about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most. It’s the ultimate mantra for the competitive spirit.”
Not many people can relate to being an NBA superstar like Bryant, but everyone can relate to that mamba mentality that Bryant lived by.
“You don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate Kobe,” Monroe said. “The way he approached things, the way he approached his craft, I think he could have done anything in the world that he wanted to just because of how hard he worked.”
While Bryant’s retirement in 2016 was the end of his professional career, it was not the end of his involvement in the sport. Bryant opened the Mamba Sports Academy and coached his daughter, Gianna’s basketball team, the Mambas. With Gianna’s eyes set on the WNBA, Bryant became an advocate for women’s basketball at all levels.
“It was amazing to see someone like that really be in the corner of women’s college basketball and women’s professional basketball as well,” junior forward Tori Crawford said.
Crawford recalls from when she started playing competitively at nine years old and her coach asked her what number she wanted to be, and she chose 24 because she wanted to be like Bryant.
“I remember when I initially picked my number, I just said, ‘I want to be as competitive and as gritty as him and really go after every single ball,’” Crawford said. “It’s a duty I’ve held myself to this entire time, but I think [his death] really magnifies [it] now.”
Both Penn men’s and women’s basketball teams were devastated by the news, but were honored to have grown up watching Bryant’s career. Bryant’s impact on women’s basketball, his career in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, and his mamba mentality will all live on forever.
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