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Praised for his relentless heart and literally unflinching spirit, Kobe Bryant passed two years ago today.

In an announcement that stunned and stopped the world, we learned the Black Mamba was gone.

The emptiness felt then still persists now. And like a hundred band-aids snatched from your skin, so does the pain.

The sports world still pays homage.

Sure there have been games played and champions crowned since his earthly departure, even one from his beloved Lakers, but basketball hasn’t been the same since Jan. 26, 2020.

Kobe was the ultimate competitor. He exemplified greatness even while in pursuit of it. On his way to stardom and five championships, we watched him develop, make mistakes and morph into the man we remember him as today. And like his early jump shot, Kobe built his legacy brick-by-brick.

We watched Kobe grow up.

Maniacally learning from the greats before him and adding his own flare, he soon dominated the league in so many categories that it’s now impossible to tell the NBA’s story without mentioning both #8 and #24.

Kobe Bryant appealed to us not only because of his achievements. But the mentality. The Mamba Mentality.

When Kobe Bryant passed, everything and everybody stood still.

Far from a cheesy branding gimmick (TB-12 comes to mind), Kobe possessed the rare dual spirit of a basketball nerd and medieval executioner. One that studied with the same intensity as he performed with. Doing this, Kobe earned the respect of his contemporaries, predecessors, and the generations that follow.

NBA Players have come and gone. Many have earned monikers just like the Black Mamba did. Cool nicknames like The Secretary of Defense, The Glove, Air, Magic, and Ice Trey have circulated the lexicon over the years, all of whom have acknowledged Kobe’s indelible contribution to the game he loved.

Throughout his prime, Kobe played as if he wasn’t Kobe. He maintained the hunger, the underdog spirit, that thing that makes you want to prove everyone wrong. He kept that during his entire career, even after his battered body could no longer keep up.

A legacy like no other.

Your typical Cable TV basketball talk show hosts debate who is the Greatest of All Time by blending facts and narratives that usually land somewhere between Michael Jordan or Lebron James. Kobe Bryant’s name is even floated in the conversation by some, however, a different distinction is deserved.

Kobe Bryant passed but his legacy is infinite. The story of the NBA cannot be told without Kobe Bryant. He was and is the Most Respected Basketball Player Of All Time.

Respect is not a stat. It’s not measurable by any other metric than what you see, what you feel. It’s not to say there aren’t better players than Kobe, but show me one more loved and tattooed on the skin of players and fans alike.

Show me one who touched more people that he never met.

No other player – in the history of the game – represented the NBA here and globally better than Bryant and making him the NBA logo should be a matter of when, not if.

It was his play on the court that transcended the sport and left an open lane to the basket for those who followed, including his daughter Gianna who too, tragically, was also taken early that Sunday morning.

In his own words:

“Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back, that play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you.”

Black Mamba. Forever.

Hailing from Charlotte North Carolina, born litterateur Ezekiel J. Walker earned a B.A. in Psychology at Winston Salem State University. Walker later published his first creative nonfiction book and has...

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