Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday along with eight other passengers, including his daughter Gianna. His death touched me personally more than the death of any other public figure. At first, I couldn’t believe the news. And then, after I’ve confirmed it and reconfirmed it a couple of times, I couldn’t stop crying. It took me some time to understand why Kobe meant so much to me. This post captures his legacy on me.

Why would a geeky Lithuanian like me care so much about the death of a former basketball player? Well, first, in Lithuania, basketball is a cultural phenomenon and the number one sport. It’s been called a second religion here. I truly got into basketball when I was around 11. I vividly remember watching “Žalgiris” win FIBA Cup in 1998 and Euroleague in 1999. Those victories made a strong impression on me.

Following those victories, the National Basketball Association (NBA) captured my interest. At that time, the most exciting team in the NBA were the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaq and Kobe were the dynamic duo leading the Lakers.

Initially, I became a fan of Shaq. Shaq had tremendous physical gifts. I was mesmerized by what an unstoppable force he was on the court and a funny, charismatic personality off it. But Shaq would also come in overweight into the team’s training camp. His work ethic didn’t inspire me.

The other side of the dynamic duo was Kobe. His physical gifts were good but not extraordinary. There are many players with his height and athletic ability. What separated Kobe from others was his work ethic. He worked harder and smarter than others. Kobe was a master craftsman.

Kobe became one of the greatest players in the history of the NBA. His accolades are many. And after he retired from basketball, he didn’t stop and won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for Dear Basketball. Sadly, we’ll never see what else Kobe would’ve created.

Since I was young, I was drawn to hard-working fictional characters. I’ll use One Piece anime TV series as an example. In One Piece, the main character is Luffy. Luffy gets his powers from eating a magical fruit. But he was not my favourite character - that was Roronoa Zoro, a swordsman who is seen in the series as sleeping or training most of the time.

There are many fictional characters, who inspired me through their work ethic. But Kobe is the only real one.

As I sit here now, I understand that most basketball players in the NBA work hard. Even with physical gifts, it’s impossible to be among the hundreds of the best in the world without putting in the hours. I recognize that Kobe built the myth around him. But that recognition doesn’t take away from the effect the myth had on me.

Kobe inspired me to pursue whatever I choose through craftsmanship. To not expect shortcuts. To be curious, hone my skills, respect my chosen craft, learn from masters and to fearlessly pursue mastery. Kobe inspired me always to strive to be the best version of myself.