As kids, we idolize our favorite athletes like literal superheroes. The analogy is obvious as these physical specimens not only look the part, but have superhuman powers, whether they’re jumping 50 inches in the air to dunk a basketball or trucking through three men into an end zone. As we age, we start to identify less with the powers, and more with the individuals themselves — for instance, in the Avengers movies, the conflicting ideals of Iron Man and Captain America about how they should use their powers are what make the movie so compelling, even to adults.
Early on in my life I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a professional athlete. I lacked the athleticism and talent, but still had a passion for sports, and as long as the sun was out I could be found playing pick-up football or shooting hoops. Even outside of sports, people enjoy things they may not have a natural talent for, and may often feel deterred from pursuing that passion because they fear failure.
Growing up, my favorite superhero was Batman — from the tech he possessed to his cool, measured demeanor, he was the ultimate threat to all villains of Gotham City. Oddly enough, a major appeal of Batman is that he actually doesn’t have any super powers. He is driven by his mentality, which stems from the memory of his late parents and provides fuel to eradicate crime and help humanity. Bruce Wayne could be any man with fire and drive for a cause, and that persona could inspire any average person to do amazing things.
As an athlete, Kobe Bryant was the Batman of basketball, a 6-foot-6-inch, lanky shooting guard drafted into the NBA at the ripe age of 17. Bryant was no doubt talented, getting drafted as the 13th pick of the first round. However, in his first two years, Bryant was far from perceived as destined for stardom. He came off the bench and appeared to be headed down the track of a solid, steady guard who could contribute as a good role player for a team. What separated Bryant from his peers couldn’t be seen in games, or even in practice. His passion for the game of basketball allowed him to transcend the sport itself, and become the legend that he is known as now.
Many people view Bryant as a personification of persistence, dedication and discipline, and assume that his success is due to some sort of iron will. The truth is that the 4 a.m. weight room sessions, 1,000 shots a game, tactical film sessions to get any edge on his match-up that night and blood, sweat and tears Kobe Bryant put into basketball could not be fueled by dutiful willpower. He, like any other human, would have inevitably given up. To consistently be amongst the best in the league over his 20-year career, he was fueled by the same intense passion for the sport that existed from the day he picked up a basketball. In his own words from his letter “Dear Basketball” written after his retirement from the sport, “I played through the sweat and hurt / Not because challenge called me / But because YOU called me.”
After the tragic passing of the Black Mamba, I can’t help but reflect on the values that being a fan of his instilled in me, and how much they have impacted my life both now and for the future. There are many talented people in the world, and it is easy for people to get deterred from pursuing their passion due to the worry of not having what it takes, not having the God-given gift someone else may. Kobe Bryant is a reminder that people should never give up on their interest, because the only true superpower is that of loving something.
Arjun Lama can be reached at email@example.com.