“That’s the true mark of a legacy … how it affects the next generation.”
NBA legend Kobe Bryant saw not one but two of his Los Angeles Lakers’ jerseys rise to the rafters in Staples Center on Dec. 18 in a ceremony that had fans and the greater NBA family celebrating Bryant and his outstanding accomplishments.
While wearing Lakers jerseys No. 8 and No. 24, he won a total of five championships and outscored 80 Hall-of-Famers twice over during an unparalleled 20 years in the league.
“You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream,” Bryant wrote on Twitter upon seeing his jerseys immortalized alongside other Laker greats who once inspired him as a little boy playing basketball in Italy.
But like any great champion, he wants his career to mean more. In a pre-game press conference on Dec. 18, Bryant spoke about the meaning of jersey retirement for today’s young players: “That’s the true mark of a legacy … how it affects the next generation.”
Here are five ways Bryant’s already making an impact on the next generation of athletes’ pursuit of greatness.
1. He inspired James Harden, Steph Curry, and other NBA greats to play.
James Harden stated that he "used to rush home after school just to watch [Kobe] play."
2. He showed us that hard work is what makes champions.
“If you do the work, dreams come true,” Bryant said during his jersey retirement halftime speech. “But hopefully what you get from tonight is an understanding that those times when you get up early and you work hard, or you stay up late and you work hard … That is actually the dream. It’s the dream. It’s not the destination — it’s the journey.”
3. He believes in the value of family.
“It feels good as a father to have my family come in and share this evening with me,” Bryant said during Monday night’s press conference. “My biggest challenge of the evening is, ‘Will Bianca sit for the two-hour game?’”
4. He’s bringing sports to kids around the world.
The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation provides funding for youth basketball and soccer camps as well as programs to help fight youth homelessness and provide healthcare to vulnerable youth. Bryant has also joined forces with NBA China to set up the country’s first NBA Basketball School. The school, expected to be completed in 2019, will reportedly be open to players of all genders, from junior level to professionals.
5. He believes sport can be used to strengthen youth mentally and emotionally.
President Barack Obama holds a personalized team jersey presented to him by Los Angeles Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher during a ceremony honoring the 2009 NBA basketball champions, Jan. 25, 2010. Photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House/Wikipedia.
“A lot of [the game] is emotionally driven,” Bryant said during the Dec. 18 press conference. “How to deal with anxiety, how to deal with pressure, how to quiet the ego — all those little inner battles that take place … [T]o be able to teach those through sport, hopefully, we can have children grow up to be outstanding citizens.”