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Thank you Kobe: Times sports reporter Nathan Berg reflects on the legacy of an NBA legend
Kobe Bryant
Gennesys Cabral, of Los Angeles, wears a Kobe Bryant jersey outside of the Staples Center at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Los Angeles. Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif. He was 41. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Growing up, one prayer united my generation unlike any other – regardless of race, religion, nationality or gender. It was shouted every day in high school cafeterias and bathrooms, as millions of projectiles were launched toward millions of trash cans.

Part declaration, part plea, a single word became a universal guide, leading objects to their proper destinations.

“Kobe!”

Sometimes, the shot would hit, making the shooter a temporary king among lunchroom peasants – a blessing from an all-time great. Sometimes it would fall short, forcing them to make the eternal walk of shame to the base of the bin and try again.

The Mamba giveth, and the Mamba taketh away.

Early Sunday morning, the world lost a sports icon. Kobe Bryant was an athlete that transcended basketball. He was the embodiment of the one quality that has always separated the goods from the greats: clutch.

He was also a father and businessman who became living proof that hard work and belief will always pay off no matter where you come from. The world will never be the same without Kobe, and he will be sorely missed.

He will also never be forgotten.

Though he retired less than four years ago, Kobe’s legacy has already made a tangible effect on today’s NBA. Newcoming guards around the league have donned Nos. 24 and 8 in his honor for years already, and his influence on a generation of young athletes is hard to overstate.

The gifted few to make it professionally undoubtedly spent years embarrassing opponents in hardtop pickup games with Kobe’s signature fadeaway and stare down.

Those of us who were less athletically inclined emulated him with the same level of vigor, if not quite as much skill. We may not have hit the shots, but Kobe’s attitude of competitiveness is a quality that can make the difference between success and failure no matter the task.

Just got into your dream college? Kobe!

Earned that big promotion? Kobe!

Popped the question and she said yes? You get the point.

I’ve never been a big Lakers fan, nor am I a supporter of pro dynasties like the early 2000s LA squads who consistently beat down the rest of the league both in style points and on the scoreboard. But if you couldn’t appreciate what Kobe did on the court night in and night out during his playing days, you just didn’t get basketball.

The game would simply not be the same without him.

There are fewer opportunities in adult life to invoke Kobe’s name out loud, but I’ve managed to find a personal exception. Every day after washing my hands in The Gainesville Times office bathroom, I grab two paper towels from the dispenser, dry my hands and crumple them into a neat ball. I take five or six steps away from the trash can, countdown from three in my head and right at the imagined buzzer, I loose the shot.

Each instance comes with that one hallowed word spoken quietly under my breath as I pray for the shot to find its mark. Kobe.

Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail, much like life really. But no matter the result, the spirit of the Mamba always gives me the confidence to try again the next time.

Thank you Kobe.

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