An Equal World Is an Enabled World
Every year since I joined the workforce, around late January I would start seeing nods to International Women’s Day coming around the corner. Each time a new theme is announced and everybody around the world interprets it in their own way. I always look forward to seeing people far and wide sharing the different iterations of what a day celebrating women means to them.
This year the excitement and anticipation I typically begin feeling were halted when I heard the news of the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his young daughter Gianna. Those two along with seven other passengers were victims of a helicopter crash leaving no survivors on Sunday, January 26th. I have followed a team or two in the NBA in recent years but would definitely not describe myself as a lifelong basketball fan. Nonetheless, I knew of Kobe Bryant and his legacy, and felt this moment deeply.
In keeping up with the flood of social media reactions to this unthinkable tragedy I started learning more and more about Kobe’s legacy. I’m not referring to his long list of accolades and professional accomplishments as an athlete. Although those do include the highest of honors from Olympic gold medals to World Championships, his impact stretched much further than the courts he played on.
‘The Black Mamba’ (as he was affectionately known worldwide) had a much greater legacy as a father figure, both in the family he had created with his wife Vanessa, and among the larger Los Angeles Community. As I read about his family, I became aware that tragically a huge portion of his legacy was sitting with him on that helicopter when he passed. Gianna Bryant was well on her way to achieving her own dreams of basketball superstardom. At only 13, she had already set the groundwork to play for her favorite college team, the UConn Huskies, and was honing her craft on the team Kobe coached, aptly called the ‘Mambas’. Kobe was only beginning what reporters have been referring to as an equally impactful second act of his career.
In reflection, ESPN Sports Anchor Elle Duncan recalled a conversation she had with Kobe a few years back when she first met him while pregnant with her first child, a girl. Knowing that Kobe himself was already a father to girls, she asked him if he had any advice on raising a girl. He responded, “just be grateful you’ve been given that gift, girls are amazing."
He had been asked time and time again if he and Vanessa had hoped to have a boy who could carry on his legacy. He joked in interviews that this is where Gianna would jump in, if she was around, to let everybody know she fully intended on carrying on that legacy herself. Kobe continued that he would “have 5 more girls if he could,” he’s “a girl Dad” who loves “the challenge of raising little women.”
It seems that when Kobe looked at Gianna or any of his girls, he didn’t see the barriers that society imposes upon them. He saw their drive, talent, dedication and motivation to achieve greatness. He imparted upon them the “Mamba Mentality,” which Kobe himself described as meaning “to be able to constantly try to be the best version of yourself.” Kobe enabled his girls and the girls he coached to look at the world as a place that could provide opportunities for them that are equal to what the young boys around them found themselves presented with.
Kobe was on that helicopter, along with another coach/father; they both dedicated their spare time to coaching their young daughters in the game that was their passion. The mere fact that they were both there demonstrates their dedication to making this world a better place for their daughters and other young women to live in. Although it is foreign and devastating to live now in a world where Kobe Bryant exists only in memories, the example he set as a man, a father and a member of a greater community that needs to do better, lives on.
As we approach this year’s recognition of International Women’s Day, we as members of humanity owe it to Kobe, his daughter Gianna, their family and the other people who did not make it home that Sunday, to continue the work they had started. We must follow in his footsteps and give our girls the same chances he gave his. Kobe worked to give the young women of the world a chance to look ahead towards an equal world, where they feel enabled to reach for the dreams and goals they set. Let us approach this year and the years to follow with the Mamba Mentality, our girls and his girls deserve it.