On January 26, the game of basketball and every heart within it was wounded by the death of the legendary Kobe Bryant. With him was his daughter Gianna and seven others who all tragically passed in a helicopter accident.
Kobe is universally considered to be one of the greatest players of all time. His death has cut deeply into our nationwide community of fans, players, and family. The past weeks have been testaments to just how affecting Kobe’s legacy was on the many who had the pleasure of playing with him and the countless others who were inspired by simply watching him across the world.
Kobe’s life as one of the best was proven in his nonstop accomplishments. Bryant’s career started when he was 18 years old and lasted for 20 years, four times longer than the average NBA player. His longevity was justified by his incredible list of career accomplishments including five NBA championships, 15 all-star team selections, and two occasions of leading the league in all time scoring, leaving no doubt as to why he was considered to be one of the best.
Because of the extraordinary length of his career, Kobe’s influence has modeled multiple generations. Now, the ones who grew up admiring Kobe as kids are adults in their 20’s. Some even fill that same role of inspiration for a younger generation as collegiate and even professional players.
Paul Hiepler, junior guard on the men’s basketball team, exemplifies this idea perfectly. Hiepler grew up in the 2000’s as a basketball fan in Southern California and was no stranger to Kobe’s infectious inspiration from a very young age.
“It was impossible not to be inspired by Kobe Bryant,” Hiepler said. “I grew up in Staples Center. From the time my dad would hide me in a blanket to get into the games, to witnessing his last game at 18 years old, scoring 60 points.”
That inspiration has excited Hiepler to reach the D1 level, reminding him of the drive he found in watching a player like Kobe in the years leading up to this point in Hiepler’s career.
“He inspired me to be the best player possible and to put your head down and work,” Hiepler said. “I remember when I was in the hospital my junior year after an emergency appendectomy, and I was done for the year because of that. Watching Kobe rehab through his torn Achilles is what gave me the motivation to push through to continue my dream to play D1 basketball.”
Bryant’s terrible death continues to be painfully impactful for players like Hiepler. However, the inspiration Kobe brought continues to live in the players and in the game they love. Kobe’s death will always be a tragedy, but the lives he changed as a basketball player and as a man are proof that his life was lived with purpose.
Hiepler highlights that within the remorse of Kobe’s death is a crucial lesson.
“Seeing how quickly it can end, this is another reminder for us as Christians to always put our relationship with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ above everything.”