Grade school really reminds me of the stone ages. Instead of following whoever had the biggest stick, the hierarchy of power and clout among little boys was entirely determined by one’s performance in recess games. For most of grade school, I was the fat kid: slow, soft, and easy to beat. But despite this evident disadvantage and track record of losing, I always showed up to play. My parents were often bemused by my attraction to things I had no talent in, but supported me, nonetheless. In the summer between grade 3 and 4, they sent me to basketball camp for the first time.
My introduction to basketball was at this local sports day camp hosted by University of Windsor commentator JK Kennedy. Coach Kennedy was a loud man with a fiery passion for basketball. He could scream at you up and down the court and milk every drop of hustle left in you. He was also a supporter of the LA Lakers and their star Kobe Bryant. Every little kid at this camp wanted to be like Kobe. We little gremlins would chuck up fadeaway jump shots to mimic his game, only to get yelled at by Coach Kennedy. Everyone wanted to play like Kobe, to be a relentless scorer that refused to lose. Talking about this almost mythical player with other kids gave me a profound sense of inclusion and belonging. Over that one summer, I felt that basketball became part of my self-identity.
Equipped with my new skills from camp, I took my talents to the south blacktops of Bellewood Public school. Recess basketball was the popular game of the time, and I started killing it. We played on the 7-foot nets, running classic half court ball. My love for the game started growing, and I wanted to join the school team. I showed up to tryouts ready to ball, but I quickly got brushed aside for older, bigger players. Despite my newfound skills from camp, I didn’t male the cut. Grade 4 me was crushed. I remember crying about it to my dad and complaining about nothing was fair. That’s when my dad started taking me out to hoop more. Him and I would play on our driveway, getting my shots up. The next year, after another full summer of basketball camp, I got signed up for tryouts with the South Windsor Warriors, my local youth team. This time, my hard work paid off. I powered through tryouts and made the team. As the newest member, I got to pick my number. I’m usually not a superstitious person, but I believe that certain symbols hold power. I wanted to pay homage to the man who got me into the sport in the first place: #24.
That number symbolizes so much. The unrelenting perseverance. The snake-like concentration. The ceaseless will to win. Having the opportunity to wear it through my youth was truly a privilege. I picked up other sports like volleyball and track in high school, but basketball remained ingrained in my spirit. I always look back fondly to the summer days on the hardtop and the early mornings on the gym floor. My love for sports was all sparked by this legendary player and his immortalized spirit.
There exists a generation of young sports fans who lost part of their childhood on January 26th, 2020. A generation of kids who got inspired to play basketball, who made endless memories engaging in sport and the beautiful game. Every kid knew which name to cry as they faded away from the basket or as they threw paper into the bin. But most of all, his character and spirit could be applied anywhere, on and off the court.
“The Mamba Mentality is a constant quest to find answers. It’s that infinite curiosity to want to be better, to figure things out. Mamba Mentality is you’re going, you’re competing, you’re not worried about the end result.”
As we forge our separate paths through life, we can always look up to the Mamba for inspiration. Legends never die. Kobe Bryant’s winning spirit lives forever on in our hearts. Mamba Out.