It’s been exactly one year since Kobe Bryant’s epic final game with the Lakers, and since retiring from the NBA, he’s been focused on teaching the game to a new generation of players. In partnership with Nike, Bryant created the Mamba League, a youth basketball program for boys and girls ages 8-10 that began in February and was made available to children in four underserved communities in Los Angeles.
“Our line for the league is ‘play, learn, and grow,” Bryant said. “This is really important to me and reflects what I want to share with the kids about my own journey — that through playing the game of basketball I learned not just about the game but about myself and others. And through that process you grow, as an athlete and as a person.”
The league is comprised of 40 coaches who are volunteers from Nike stores in the Los Angeles area and Boys & Girls Club staff, and they taught the game to a total of 288 players. Coaches participated in a comprehensive training clinic that was equal parts basketball and social-emotional training, in order to make sure every player had a positive experience. Female coaches were brought in to lead the all-girls teams, which made up 45 percent of the league’s participants.
Children from four main neighborhoods in the greater Los Angeles area — Nickerson Gardens, Whittier, West San Gabriel Valley/Monterey Park and Venice — were invited to join the league when registration began on Feb. 1. The league will celebrate the end of its first eight-week season with a tournament Saturday, and the plan is to expand the offering to additional locations in 2018.
“I like seeing kids get better,” Bryant said. “I like seeing the light go on, where they’re like, ‘OK, I couldn’t do this last week, but now I can.’ It’s almost like watching magic slowly develop in front of your eyes. That reaction and that expression is why I do it.”
Kobe Bryant’s career finale was essentially the result of taking every stereotype of his career to it’s furthest extreme. The Los Angeles Lakers legend put up 60 points on 50 shots to beat the Utah Jazz in a legendary walk-off game, but according to Bryant, the plan wasn’t for his final outing to be such a spectacle.
Bryant sat down with Baxter Holmes of ESPN to take a fun look back at the last game of his career, and in the must-read piece, he revealed that what some would call hogging the ball was actually his way of being altruistic.
He just wanted to save his young teammates from the wrath of thousands of angry Kobe fans.
“After the first couple minutes, I was like, ‘Oh, s—,'” Bryant told Holmes. “It became apparent really, really quickly that this night was not going to go down with me just playing OK. It was either going to have to be an epic one or the worst one ever, because they were just going to keep throwing me the damn ball and the crowd wanted me to shoot every time — almost to the point where I felt bad for my teammates, because if they took a shot, the crowd was ready to boo. So it was like, ‘Oh, s—. I gotta go.'”
Go Bryant did, in an unforgettable performance that any basketball fan could appreciate. Although probably not as much as his young teammates, who not only got courtside seats to a legendary night, but also didn’t have to deal with the wrath of an angry mob.