UPDATED: 7:30 a.m. ET, Jan. 26, 2022
Wednesday marks the two-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant‘s tragic death in a helicopter crash in California.
But even in death, the basketball legend is fondly remembered by his Black Mamba nickname that likened the combination of his unique skills and killer instinct on the court to the deadly venomous African snake of the same name. It was a nickname that was legitimately earned from Kobe ruling the hardwood for two decades leading one of the NBA’s flagship franchises to basketball glory.
To be sure, “Black mambas are fast, nervous, lethally venomous, and when threatened, highly aggressive,” according to National Geographic.
The same was said for Bryant, metaphorically, of course, as his play on the court was always exemplified by the aforementioned qualities that made him a legend in life and now, two years after he, his daughter and seven others perished in a helicopter crash in southern California on Jan. 26, 2020. He was just 41 years old.
The helicopter’s passengers were flying to a basketball game in which he was coaching his daughter, Gigi, at his eponymous sports complex, Mamba Academy. Out of respect for Bryant and his family, the Mamba Sports Academy in May retired its “Mamba” name, since there can only be one Black Mamba.
But Bryant’s “Mamba mentality” lives on, thanks in no small part to the history the suburban Philadelphia native made by exceeding expectations after going straight from high school to the NBA, excelling for the Los Angeles Lakers from 1996 to 2016 and leading his teams to five NBA championships. Bryant was also a two-time Olympic gold medalist and an Oscar winner.
Let’s be clear: Kobe Bryant is not only sports history but he is also American history and world history.
Despite not going to college, Bryant proved to be an extremely erudite professional basketball player, regularly interlacing his words with flawless Italian that he learned as a youth while living in Italy, where his father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant played professional basketball. It’s where he developed both his love for the game and his worldly outlook that helped expedite his basketball greatness and dominance on the court — his Mamba Mentality.
It was because of that mentality that he may not have always been the most liked person on the court — after all, does anybody really like Black Mambas, among the top deadliest snakes in the world? — but he was always among the most respected, a truth reflected by the outpouring of support and grief shown by his NBA colleagues in the aftermath of his untimely death last year.
The grief persists, underscoring what a loss Kobe was not only to the basketball community but also to society at large, as he was on the precipice of showing how much more he was than just a professional athlete.
The world may have been robbed of the chance to see what Kobe was going to do next, but the knowledge he dropped during more than 20 years of public life is timeless.
Check out these powerful quotes from Kobe Bryant that prove he is and will always be thee Black Mamba.