Kobe Bryant and Arike Ogunbowale actually have many things in common than people can ever imagine.
The only conspicuous thing about their careers is, perhaps, the fact that one is am NBA legend while the other is also on her way to attaining that legendary status in the WNBA.
Bryant may be a role model for many who aspire to play basketball, but his connection to Ogunbowale started even before they met.
Ogunbowale completedly admired him while growing up and even wanted to have his number when she joined her first AAU basketball team.
At the time, Kobe was wearing the No.8 at the Los Angeles Lakers, but the number wasn’t available for her to wear at her team.
The 23-year-old, therefore, opted for the number 24. Interestingly, Kobe also switched to that same number some months later.
“He switched to 24 and just, like, everything about 24 just became so much more important,” she said, as quoted by Theundefeated.
Ogunbowale would finally meet his idol in 2018 after hitting two game-winning shots during the Final Four of the college basketball tourney.
One shot eliminated Bryant’s favourite team, the 36-0 UConn, while the other led to the defeat of Mississippi State in the final, earning Notre Dame its first national championship in 17 years.
An impressed Kobe took to Twitter to praise Ogunbowale: “Big time shot Arike! We are a @UConnWBB family but we love seeing great players making great plays. I know my lil sis @jewellloyd is happy Well done @ndwbb good luck on Sunday.”
In response, she wrote: “Wow, my life is complete. The GOAT.” And that was how their special bond began.
When Kobe died in January with his daughter Gianna after a helicopter crash, the news devastated his mentee.
“I was just shook. It was so insane to me. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it,” Ogunbowale recalled.
“For somebody that you look up to to give you advice about your game and tell you things that they see – a lot of people don’t get that chance.
“It’s very special that I was able to have those encounters,” she added, ahead of Bryant’s birthday on Sunday.
It is worthy to note, after they met, Bryant invited Ogunbowale to come watch him record an episode of the ESPN+ show Detail when she was in Los Angeles.
He continued to text her after games and they also had numerous chats about basketball and the way to the top.
In 2018 when Ogunbowale appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show, Kobe showed up on the show to surprise her.
While seated next to Ogunbowale, Bryant raved about her national championship game winner, called Ogunbowale a champ and mentioned that Gianna had been practicing Ogunbowale’s shot that eliminated Connecticut in the Final Four.
He said Gianna “loves great players making great moves” and had actually been practicing the moves made by Ogunbowale.
Kobe may be gone, but he inspired Ogunbowale and she is grateful to him for dedicating his time to help her progress.
Indeed, Ogunbowale’s development is going according to plan, as she is currently one of the WNBA’s most electrifying scorers.