What Kobe Bryant Meant to Iranian American Basketball Fans

By Iman Sadri

January 30, 2020

Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday at the age of 41 still seems inconceivable. Bryant, his 13 year old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles. The news didn’t seem real. I received several texts from friends with the article that Kobe had died. I thought it was a hoax. How could one of the best basketball players of all time die so young ? Unfortunately, when these tragic accidents occur we are reminded of the real fragility we are prone to as human beings.

When Kobe entered the league, I was already a huge NBA fan. I grew up in Sacramento and resided there for 20 years from 1984-2004. I started watching my beloved Sacramento Kings and went to my first NBA game in 1990 at the age of nine. Kobe’s first year in the league was 1996 and early on you could see the comparisons to Michael Jordan. His athleticism and swagger was similar to MJ’s. As was his competitiveness and willingness to win. You could see how bad he wanted to win even as a rookie. By 1999 the Kings had become relevant and made NBA Playoffs.

From 2000-2002 the Kings lost three straight playoff series’ to Kobe’s Lakers. It could be argued without a doubt that the Kings lost every year due to Kobe. In fact, the Kings would have undoubtedly won the NBA Championship in 2002. Kobe was relentless on both ends of the floor. Pursuing excellence on offense and on defense. There were many occasions where Kobe single-handedly changed the outcome of the game that I would be watching. Either a last second shot or a heroic last minute play to turn the tide in favor of a Lakers win. During the 2003-2004 NBA Season the last game of the season determined which team would have the best regular season record in the Western Conference. If the Kings won and the Lakers lost they would finish with the best record and become the #1 seed.

Should they lose and the Lakers won the Kings would finish in fourth place. Which would mean they would have a more difficult time going further in the Playoffs. Luck for the Lakers would have it that Kobe would hit the game winning shot at the buzzer in the final game of the season. Resulting in the Lakers finishing with the best record in the Western Conference. The Kings finished with the fourth best record. And in the second round of the Playoffs they were faced with the Timberwolves, who zoomed past them and eliminated them. I am confident that the Kings would have made it back to the Western Conference Finals in 2003-2004 if it wasn’t for Kobe. It was the same year Kevin Garnett won the league’s MVP Award.

Kobe played 20 years for the Lakers and in that time span was responsible for a whole new generation Lakers fans emerging. Especially in the Iranian American community in Southern California. Many had already been Lakers fans, but with Kobe’s arrival, he served as a bridge that made the Lakers great again. Bringing back to their glory days of the Showtime 80’s teams with Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Lakers became revived and with Shaq’s arrival just about every Persian NBA fan I met would tell me that they were Lakers fans. Kobe’s greatness propelled them to be Lakers fans. After his retirement in 2016, many Persian Lakers fans I met told me that Kobe Bryant made them life long NBA fans, because of the passion and dedication that he brought to the game.

“Kobe Bryant made many Persian Americans life- long NBA fans, because of the passion and dedication that he brought to the game.”

Kobe embodied greatness with his craft. I was a sophomore in high school when Kobe first came into the league at the age. In effect, I grew up with him. His battles with my beloved Kings left me with many heartaches. It was hard to get over losing to the Lakers in 2002 in the Western Conference Finals. But, despite my animosity towards his greatness on the court, since he continually beat my team, I still had incredible respect for him. As did an entire generation of Iranian American and global NBA fans.

Iman Sadri is the founder of @ThePersianObserver