BRENTON WEBB
PHOTOGRAPHER, WRITER & ACTIVIST
CHICAGO, IL

You know, writing is usually not that hard for me. I see a blank page, most of the time I have an idea, and I fill that canvas up with words. A few people have asked me if I was going to write about this topic, but after a few attempts and almost three weeks gone by, nothing I wrote felt good. In the same vein, Kevin Durant told reporters, “It feels like nothing will ever be big enough to truly honor Kobe Bryant.” And sadly, that’s the absolute truth. Nothing I write, nothing I have tried to write thus far, nothing the best writers have written or will write, will ever be good enough. No phrase, no clever metaphor, no creative angles will ever be good enough. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. So Kobe, the Superhero, this is for you.

For as long as I can remember, I remember hearing the name Kobe. I heard the name Michael much more growing up, but when I was 6 – Kobe came onto the scene. The following year (the 1997-1998 season) I remember really falling in love with watching NBA basketball. And by that time Kobe had not just been in the NBA for a couple years, he had arrived. He made his first all-star game that season and was putting the rest of the league on notice that he had next. A kid letting a league of grown men know that he was going to be the next great. A league that still featured such legends as Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Grant Hill, Karl Malone…you get the point.

Now that would be a crazy call out for most people, but most people are not Kobe Bean Bryant. In fact, Reggie Miller shared a story where a 17 year old Kobe Bryant told him that he would eventually refer to Kobe as the Caramel Cat, playing off of Reggie Miller’s nickname for MJ (black cat). Kobe Bryant talking trash to a future Hall of Famer like it was a normal thing. And again, how crazy is it that eventually Kobe (the Caramel Cat) was right?

I remember watching this young Kobe completely take over ball games. I remember going to Blockbuster and renting Kobe’s Courtside time and time again. On Sundays my family would go to church, go to my grandparents’ house, eat soul food and watch the Lakers play. That was our standard Sunday. I remember those Sundays vividly. Knitted afghans on all the couches, bad lighting, pictures of grandkids and cousins everywhere, and my brother and I huddled around a thing that most kids today wouldn’t recognize as a TV. I mean our version of High-Definition was just sitting as closely as we could without getting yelled at, nevertheless that “TV” still provided great moments. We watched the Pacers series, the Horry 3, the Shaq-Blazers oop, the AI step over, and so many other big moments. NBA on NBC in those days was everything and Kobe was always involved. When I say I grew up with this guy, I mean I literally grew up with this guy. After watching those games with my brother, Weston, we would go outside and try to mimic what Kobe showed us. Ridiculous fadeaways, behind the back dribbles, walking with swagger, talking trash, the young Mamba way. Kobe was such a vital part of my adolescence, that’s why I think his death hits so hard for people my age. If anyone should have lived forever, if anyone should have lived to be 300 years old, it should have been the Superhero Kobe Bryant.

Kobe’s determination and will to achieve the future that he envisioned for himself was incredible. I’m grateful for being able to witness it. In 2012, I tweeted, “Kobe may not be the best basketball player in the world, but he definitely works the hardest.” I tweeted that in 2012 and that was surely after his prime. Kobe continued to work harder than anyone else in the league. I was still finding myself impressed with his work ethic. A work ethic I wanted to strive for and still do.

His work ethic and drive led to my all-time favorite moment. It’s 2013 and Kobe ruptured his achilles tendon in a close game against the Warriors. He had 32 points at the time, 10 in the fourth quarter. He ruptured his achilles and then made a conscious decision to get up by himself. He did not have his teammates come get him and walk him into the locker room. He didn’t ask for a wheelchair. No he stood up, hobbled to the bench, then hobbled all the way back down the court to the free throw line and sank two free throws to tie the game up. Like… what? This Kobe moment single handedly inspired me to create a workout playlist. I’m serious, look. Please forgive my obnoxious caption also, but Kobe made me do it. (And if you’re wondering who’s on the playlist, trust me it’s flame emojis, I can send it to you.)

The only person that could have done that is Kobe Bean Bryant. This is the guy that scored 81, the guy that tried to fight Shaquille O’Neal (Charles Barkely and Kobe are the only people who have ever tried to fight Lakers Shaq and Chuck is a black belt in karate. Kobe is not). Kobe, the guy that didn’t flinch when Matt Barnes put a ball inches from his face.  This is how legends are formed. This is why Kobe is a Superhero. Superheroes do things we have never seen before and superheroes are still somehow relatable. Yes, we triumph with them when they jump on the scorer’s table to bask in the glory, but we empathize with them when they tear a major tendon. Superheroes don’t look down on you, they look you in the eye on the same level.

Kobe’s drive and discipline will always be unmatched, but in retrospect those things aren’t my favorite characteristics of him. The best thing about Kobe is how he united the world, especially a certain generation, and within that generation, specifically black men. Usually to be a generational talent, uniting the world is one of the main criteria. I think back when I used to watch Michael Jordan documentaries growing up and one of them (I forget which one, I think Air Time maybe) focused on the ‘92 Dream Team. In one scene during the Dream Team coverage, MJ is shown walking around the streets of Barcelona and there is a giant massive sized billboard of himself dunking. I thought that was the craziest thing as a kid, in another country and still be superhero. I didn’t quite understand how big he was, but I got the jist of it. Uniting the world only the way Jordan could, until Kobe arrived. Kobe has a Chinese charity, he grew up in Italy, and in Manila, Philippines after his passing they painted a Kobe mural on one of the most popular courts in the country. Kobe united the world the only way he knew how: being himself. Whether it was his generational talent or his upbringing, no matter what country you are from, how old you are, you’re drawn to Kobe. He had it. Whatever “it” is, he had it. There is no other name that gets shouted when tossing trash into a wastebasket besides Kobe and that’s a global practice. 

Specifically, the millennial generation is the one that connects the most to Kobe because we grew up with him. At that time we ended up experiencing the internet with him. This was the first time where a superstar athlete was available to us pretty much whenever we wanted. We were all connected via Kobe via the internet. We could watch all of his highlights whenever we wanted. We even wanted to watch Kobe’s highlights so bad that we actually waited for videos to load during the dial-up internet era. What was Kobe going to do next? It was the first appointment internet viewing experience for most of us. Begging your mom to hang up the phone to be able to connect the router seemed like a small price to pay to watch that one 15 second clip of Kobe going to work. 

I would post about Kobe all the time on MySpace and Facebook. I’m like 81% sure that at one point in time Kobe was my MySpace background. And full circle, Kobe is now my Twitter header. He connected us all and still is.

Kobe connected us during his basketball career and then he showed us how to take the same level of focus and apply it elsewhere. In one of the most beautiful transitions from sport to post sport, Kobe became the ultimate artist. He was already an amazing father and basketball player, but he finally got to highlight just how incredible at life he was. Kobe was like, “…alright I’ve already conquered the NBA, let me master the podcast and film industry as well.” Then just like basketball, he did it!!! Kobe Bryant has 5 Championships, 2 Final MVPs, 1 Regular Season MVPs, 2 Gold Medals, 1 Emmy, and 1 Oscar. Read that again. Okay, can we now come up with a new phrase/acronym similar to EGOT? What about MVEPO, but we just call it The Kobe? And it’s only for people who have won a regular season MVP, a Finals MVP, an Emmy, and an Oscar. Is that cool? Can we do that? Awesome, thank you. How great was that man? It’s just so hard to let him go. I don’t think it will ever feel real.

This is a hard piece to write. I haven’t cried this much in a long time. Like Randall Cobb said, “I have never cried so much for someone I’ve actually never met”. But it doesn’t matter that we actually didn’t meet Kobe. We knew who he was and he knew who we were. Both sides knew that there was love, respect, and admiration. We all knew. 

As Kobe connected the world during his life, he also connected us again in his death. Everyone in that moment where TMZ recklessly broke the news, felt the same. The world stood still. No one knew what to do. Everyone wished it wasn’t real. Everyone cried. Everyone anxiously waited to find out who was with him. And when everyone found out it was Gigi and 7 other people, everyone’s hearts sank even further. Then collectively, we all thought to check in to see if Vanessa was doing okay. And now everyone, even three weeks later is still praying, still sending positive vibes, and still paying homage to our fallen superhero as well as the other families involved in this tragedy.

Now in this present moment as I have said, I still am not over his death nor do I want to be. If I stop moving for a second, my brain tells me that Kobe is no longer here with us on this physical planet anymore. I really do not mean to be a broken record, but it does not feel real. I guess I have to learn how to cope better, but then again, maybe we will never get over it. Do we ever really accept death with people that we love? As someone that already struggles with mourning a ton, this is some difficult stuff man. I have this guilt inside of me where I feel like it’s not okay to move on. I don’t know how some of the NBA players played through it. It feels wrong to move on with our lives. It feels like the whole world should stop to honor him with a month long of Kobe memories and moments. Honor him till 8/24, I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.

On the verge of the All-Star weekend, I hope at least everyone can come together to remember that basketball is only a game (although a perfect one). It does connect the world just as Kobe connected us, but as the athletes say nowadays, it’s bigger than basketball. I hope that love is felt all around the basketball community this weekend and it continues forward. I hope the Association and fans honor Kobe the best they can. And as for me, as I said in the beginning, this piece doesn’t feel right. I don’t think it ever will. It’s not big enough, it’s not long enough, and it’s not good enough. But I just wanted to honor the Superhero Kobe Bryant the best I could. It’s not enough, but at least I tried.

I’ll leave you with this final message; don’t ever underestimate for a single microsecond the blessing it is to leave your home and come back to it. When someone tells you to be careful, to stay safe, or have a nice trip, don’t take it for granted. All that is saying is, I care about you. So if you’re reading this, stay safe. If you’re traveling, have a nice trip. If you’re going out into the wilderness, be careful. I hope you make it back home.