SAN CLEMENTE, Calif. — As the world celebrates the legend of Kobe Bryant, it seems like everyone has a connection to a sports hero who became larger than life.
Karla Rodriguez of San Clemente remembers a soccer game from years ago when she scored five goals, and led her team to a dominating victory. After the win, a dad on the other team came up to talk her.
“He said, ‘Karla?’ I said, 'yes?' He said, ‘Oh I heard the parents talking about you on the bench.’ At the time, I didn’t know who he was because I only watched soccer,” remembers Rodriguez.
It was none other than Kobe Bryant. He wanted Rodriguez to come play for his daughter Natalia’s team.
He recruited the soccer superstar to come join his Mamba FC girls soccer team for two years. Bryant wasn’t just another team parent — he became Rodriguez’s competitive mentor. The two developed a rapport that included a special pregame handshake.
Rodriguez went from not knowing who Kobe Bryant was to learning how to play with the “Mamba mentality.”
“I played against my old club team. They hurt me and I was on the ground crying. He was like, ‘Karla, never cry on the field because you don’t want to show them that you’re scared.’ What I do is after the game, I go to the car and start crying,” said Rodriguez.
Bryant could see a bright future for the upcoming star, and he wanted her to see it too.
“When we went to go watch U.S.A. and China in San Diego, he took me aside and was like, ‘Karla, look over here.’ I saw U.S.A. playing, and he was like, ‘I’m going to see you one day playing on this stadium,' she recalled.
Rodriguez has gone on to be great. She now plays for the U17 Mexican National Team.
The soccer star's Kobe Bryant story is one of many. The late great Bryant found a way to inspire even those who never met him.
“[He’s] my greatest inspiration. I look up to him a lot. I miss him a lot. I do everything for him. Every time I’m playing and I score, I look up for him,” says Rodriguez.
Rodriguez knows the best way to celebrate Kobe Bryant is to play the game like he would, attacking every day with the “Mamba mentality.”