THOMAS: There will never be another Mamba

He won the dunk contest as an 18 year old in 1997, before leading the Lakers to back-to-back-back titles from 2000-2003.

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant celebrates a shot in this October 2010 file photo. Lucy Nicholson / REUTERS

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Few athletes have ever inspired an entire generation the way Kobe Bryant undeniably did.

The world lost one of the most prolific athletes in the history of sport when a helicopter carrying Bryant and four others crashed on Sunday morning. There were no survivors.

The flight, carrying the pilot, Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, and seven others, was scheduled to land at the academy headquarters in Thousand Oaks California, USA. There were no survivors.

Kobe Bryant will forever be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time, for reasons that could fill a book.

Over 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, he won five National Basketball Association championships, two NBA finals MVP awards, 18 appearances in the all star game and four all star MVP awards.

He won the dunk contest as an 18 year old in 1997, before leading the Lakers to back-to-back-back titles from 2000-2003.

Then there was the ridiculous 81 points he dropped on the Toronto Raptors, a showing that has been considered one of the best in modern NBA history.

The accolades are endless, but none of them are as impressive as the way he simply inspired without borders.

It wasn’t just that he did these things, it was the way in which he did them.

At 16-years-old, he made the decision to skip four years of college and declare for the NBA draft. Though he was the top high school player in the country at the time, the move was highly criticized with many questioning his character.

But for Kobe Bryant, it was the only decision. Basketball was going to be his life, and he was going to put the work in to make it happen.

High school coaches told stories of showing up for work at 6 a.m. to find him shooting in a dark gym. Teammates said every game day he would shoot upwards of 1000 shots before tip off, and then another 1000 after the game.

On the court, he wanted the ball in his hands, and he was not afraid to shoot regardless of circumstances. Three guys on him, hands in his face, Bryant made the shot.

Detractors called him selfish. Critics say he forced shots far too often. They will also point out he holds the record for most missed shots in the regular season, while claiming his selfishness is the reason he sits third all time in league scoring.

Was he this way because he was selfish? That is one theory. Another is he needed to win like he needed to breathe and he truly believed he was the best option on the court.

Nobody in the world was going to out work him, and that was that. He called it the Mamba Mentality, it is what allowed him to captivate so many, and it never turned off.

For better or for worse he was fearless. Unafraid to attempt the unthinkable, he made the unmake-able look routine and he did it all with the same ice cold stare on his face.

Few will forget the site of Kobe Bryant unaffected as Matt Barnes from the Orlando Magic feigns throwing the ball inches from his face. There was just never a time he was not dialled in.

My generation had never seen dominance on this level before, in any sport. Sure, we heard the stories of Gretzky and the ridiculous numbers he put up as he terrorizes the National Hockey League, but we didn’t get to really experience his best years.

We had heard of Michael Jordan, and his six rings. We knew everybody wanted to be like Mike, but we could not truly grasp of fully understand why. We did not get to experience his glory years on the Chicago Bulls.

Everybody knew Jerry Rice was the best receiver in the world, but we never really understood why. Stats just cannot do what the eye test does.

These larger than life, take over the game, cannot he stopped athletes seemed like creatures of myth to anyone born post 1993.

Until Kobe. For the first time ever we got to witness one of the greatest to ever play a sport, and we saw he was never satisfied.

He worked around the clock and preached anybody has the ability achieve their goals if they put the work in.

Like anybody else, he had his shortcomings. There were allegations of sexual assault brought against him in 2003. There were no criminal charges laid, but a civil settlement was reached despite Bryant vehemently denying the charges.

Though even in this, one of his darkest moments, his mamba mentality shone through. People from across the basketball world have said the sexual assault accusations caused Bryant to work diligently on the way he treated women.

He has since become a champion for women’s sports, showing heavy support for the WNBA, and opening the Mamba Academy, which has been running elite programs for young female basketball players since 2016.

Bryant had four daughters, and his closest friends have come out and spoken repeatedly on how much he loved just focusing on being a father after retirement from the NBA.

I grew up in Hamilton Ontario, The last place in the world you would consider a basketball town at the time. Still, anywhere I went, I realized it didn’t matter if you didn’t like basketball, everybody knew Kobe Bryant, and everybody knew of his work ethic.

That is why people understand what you mean when you say Kobe Bryant is a different animal, but the same beast. It is why people across the continent still shout “Kobe” when they throw anything resembling a ball into anything resembling a basket, and it is why the Jordan vs Kobe vs Lebron James debate rages on between the generations.

The sports world had simply never seen anything like Bryant. He showed us that you can have talent ‘like Mike but still work for every moment like you’re the 12th guy off the bench.

His legacy will live on through the countless fans, players, and future players he left in awe for 20 incredible seasons. There will never be another mamba.