MIAMI — Patrick Mahomes got a text from his girlfriend on Sunday that said Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
He didn’t believe her.
“I thought it was fake,” Mahomes said Monday at Super Bowl Opening Night.
Mahomes’ disbelief was how the rest of us reacted to the shocking loss of the 41-year-old Los Angeles Lakers legend. No, this could not possibly be. Not like this. Not Kobe.
“It’s just such a tragedy for him and his family and every other family [of the victims],” Mahomes said of the crash, which took the lives of nine people, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. They were on their way to Bryant’s Mamba Academy for her basketball game.
Mahomes never got to meet Bryant, and while he didn’t model his own basketball game as a high school player after the former Lakers star, the Chiefs quarterback said Bryant had a profound influence on him.
“The impact he made in my life, it was huge,” Mahomes said. “The way he was able to go about every single day when I was a kid, and the work ethic and the intensity that he had to be great every single day.”
It’s the way Mahomes has conducted his own career, and his willingness to grind every day is similar to the way Bryant carved out his legacy.
Bryant played his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five championships before retiring in 2016. He’s the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history, was the NBA Finals MVP twice and won the regular-season MVP award in 2008.
Mahomes still has most of his career in front of him, having played only two seasons as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. He has captivated the imagination of NFL fans with a brilliance rarely seen among young quarterbacks.
Mahomes was the 2018 MVP after throwing 50 touchdown passes, and while Lamar Jackson likely will win that award this year, it is Mahomes who is one step away from producing the biggest prize of all: a Super Bowl victory.
He has carried the Chiefs to this point, throwing eight touchdown passes and no interceptions in Kansas City’s two playoff victories. He also ran for the go-ahead score in the AFC Championship Game against the Tennessee Titans.
There is a little bit of Bryant in Mahomes, that championship charisma that only the great ones possess. The 24-year-old quarterback loves the big stage, and he now is on the biggest one of all. Maybe Mahomes will carry some of Bryant’s legacy with him onto the field at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday when the Chiefs face the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.
“Even to this day, I still watch videos on YouTube the day before games, just listen to him talk and how he puts everything in perspective,” Mahomes said. “Being great on and off the field with his kids and his business ventures and obviously his play. It’s a tragic thing. Prayers to his family, but he made a huge impact in my life.”
The pall of Bryant’s passing was very much in evidence Monday. A moment of silence was observed as a still picture of Bryant was shown on the video board. It was a somber reminder that we have lost one of the greatest athletes of all time, someone who touched many lives.
Rest assured, his legacy will be well represented in the Chiefs’ quarterback. “Just how hard he worked, how he strived to be the best every day,” Mahomes said. “That’s what I learned from Kobe. That’s what I try to do every single day.”
Mahomes hasn’t yet risen to Bryant’s stature and might never do so. But with a chance to win the first of what he hopes will be many titles, he will have his athletic idol on his mind.
And maybe there will be some Kobe YouTube videos to watch the night before Super Bowl LIV.