The tragic death of Kobe Bryant left a gaping hole in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s a pain that will never fully heal, a loss that still seems unfathomable one month later.
For LA native Lucas Giolito, who was basically born into the Kobe Bryant era in 1994, the Lakers superstar was seemingly everywhere in Southern California; on the basketball court, on the television and in the air that everyone breathed.
“I think he’s going to have one of the biggest impacts on that city, ever,” Giolito said in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “He was a staple. He was a part of the culture there. His presence as an athlete, as a pop culture figure in our city, it transcended basketball. He went on to win an Oscar.
“He probably had so many plans.”
For most of the month of January, Giolito was working out at Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Redondo Beach, Calif. with several other major league pitchers — his teammate Reynaldo Lopez and the Mets' Noah Syndergaard among them.
On Sunday morning, Jan. 26, Giolito awoke to a text from his friend about a TMZ article reporting Bryant had died in a helicopter crash.
“I’m like, ‘Nah. That’s bull****. There’s no way,” Giolito recalled.
Soon the nightmare the world was fearing became a reality. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others had perished in the accident.
“The feeling in the gym the next day when I got back in the gym, all of the employees in there, they knew him personally. It was really sad," Giolito said. "It felt like there was a cloud over the city for a period of time. It reminds you how fragile life is. Take advantage of each day.
"I get really upset when I do think about his wife and his daughters that he did leave behind, especially with Gigi passing away as well. It’s hard to comprehend.”
One of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game was inexplicably taken from us, but inside the Mamba Sports Academy, Giolito found inspiration in the facility Bryant created.
“If I’m walking into this place he built," Giolito said, "I might as well have that type of attitude that he had, about how he went about his business very seriously, taking advantage of every opportunity. He left such a huge legacy. You just try to carry what you can forward.
“And it just sucks because it was just the beginning for him. The type of person he was. The dedication to his craft of basketball and the things he was going to do after basketball. Obviously, his legacy is going to live on in so many of us athletes, whether you play basketball, baseball, football, whatever.”
Monday night in Los Angeles, some 20,000 mourners will gather to celebrate the lives of Bryant and his daughter at a public memorial at the Staples Center. It will be another step in a long grieving process that has been slow to develop, especially in Los Angeles — where a pall continues to hang over the city.
“For the 2-3 weeks following (Bryant’s death), I’d be going about my day, just doing my normal thing, and it would just pop in my mind and then be like, ‘Damn,’" Giolito said. "I can’t think of a celebrity death that had that affect on me and so many of my friends, so many people in LA and around the world, honestly.
“He was 100 percent my favorite Laker. Just growing up in that area when they’re winning championship after championship. It was like, ‘Do you like Shaq or Kobe?’ I like Kobe.”
Bryant’s presence is felt here in Arizona, where the White Sox and Dodgers both share Camelback Ranch, their spring training facility. During his 20-year Lakers career, Bryant became a fixture at Dodgers Stadium. He watched games with Magic Johnson, he befriended Dodgers players and announced the starting lineup to a raucous Dodgers crowd before Game 4 of the 2018 World Series.
Monday, the White Sox happen to face the Dodgers in Glendale (airing on NBC Sports Chicago at 2 p.m. CT). Giolito won’t be pitching; he’s about a week behind schedule, rehabbing a strained chest muscle.
When he returns to game action, and for the rest of his baseball career, Giolito plans to follow what he learned from Bryant. He says the impact he made far exceeds basketball and sports. No matter what you do for a living, the Lakers icon left behind a toolbox everyone can use to succeed in life.
“The Mamba mentality, that’s very, very real. (Bryant) would talk at lengths about it," he said. "I would hear him speak about that in podcasts and interviews. That’s a very real, powerful tool that you can adopt and use. It really does improve your ability to navigate through life.
"It doesn’t matter what you do. You have that type of mentality; he showed it. He showed it on the basketball court. He showed it in everything he did and even beyond basketball in his business ventures afterwards. It doesn’t stop.”
Nor will the love for Kobe Bryant. He was a king of a basketball player, a giant in life. The people he touched, like Giolito, will continue to be affected, for years and decades to come.
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