Davidson County 5th graders honor Kobe Bryant

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DAVIDSON COUNTY, N.C. -- Kobe Bryant played his entire 20 season NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

While most of us have vivid memories of his jump shots and slam dunks, the younger generation knows very little about him.

"The only thing I knew was he was a famous basketball player, and he played for the Lakers," said George Nilsen, a 5th Grader at Silver Valley Elementary in Davidson County.

His teacher, Jatana Jernigan, believed there was more to Kobe Bryant's story. She changed her lesson plans at the last moment so she could use Bryant's life as a teaching tool.

"As a teacher, you have to shift things when you need to," Jernigan said. "It's not hard to find material about Kobe Bryant."

Jernigan handed out packets that told Bryant's story.

He grew up in Italy, played high school basketball outside of Philadelphia and made the jump to the NBA.

Jernigan pointed out to the class that Bryant's success was due to his passion for the game of basketball. The message made sense to Nilsen.

"It's cool to see someone's passion and not stopping to be that," Nilsen said.

Silver Valley fifth graders also read and watched the Oscar-winning animated film "Dear Basketball."

Kobe Bryant first wrote his emotional "Dear Basketball" letter to announce his retirement at the end of the 2015/2016 NBA season. Jernigan wanted to share the letter with her students, hoping it would help them find what they love.

"Sometimes we are a 9 to 5 job, and we are not finding that true thing we love to do," Jernigan said. "If I can teach these kids you have a passion, there is a passion for you. If they can find their passion, then I've done my job."

Jordyn Jernigan is also a fifth grader and understood Bryant's desire to be the best. At first, Jordyn was not a very good swimmer. But she continued to work and now swims with ease.

"Now I can do 500 freestyle and all that other stuff," Jordyn said.

In honor of Kobe Bryant, the class balled up a piece of paper, pretended it was a basketball and shot it into a trash can. They hope one day their passion will also become a reality.

"I want to be an Olympic swimmer, so I will try hard while I am young," Jordyn said.

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