If given the chance to ask Kobe Bryant just one question, what would it be?
It's an opportunity former Division 1 athlete and PAC-12 champion Victoria Garrick was presented with at the University of Southern California when she was given a microphone in front of the Los Angeles Lakers player back in April 2018.
Instead of reminiscing about NBA championships or Oscar winning projects, Victoria took her moment to ask Kobe for his thoughts on athletes being part of mental health conversations. His answer quickly blew her away.
"I think it's important for athletes to own what they are going through. I think a lot of times we try to tell children, tell young athletes in particular, that you have those thoughts and those feelings, that's weakness. That's bad. You shouldn't be feeling that," Kobe shared. "I think the most important thing is for us to be aware of what's going on in here. Not that it's bad, good and different but it's awareness and once you're aware of it, then you can choose to walk hand-in-hand with it or you can choose to fight it but you're making that decision."
That moment made it clear to Victoria that the world famous athlete was going to impact student athletes for the better thanks to his perspective.
"Not only was he poised and did he say something incredibly inspiring but he acknowledged, supported and validated mental health issues within the athletic community," Victoria explained to E! News exclusively. "I was blown away because I wasn't expecting that and to have Kobe Bryant say, ‘Yes, mental health is important. It's something we need to pay attention towards,' it's something that is truly incredible and will change many lives."
The topic is personal to Victoria who played on the USC volleyball team during her college years in Los Angeles. She can "vividly remember" the days of sitting in front of a computer her sophomore year "at the worst state of my depression" googling "athlete mental health" or "depressed athlete."
"I could not find anything really that made me feel okay or make me feel less alone," she shared. "Fast forward just a couple of years and we have this book from Kobe Bryant that so beautifully depicts the mental health struggles of athletes."
His new young adult novel called Geese Are Never Swans is out today and tells the extraordinary tale of a young swimmer who struggles to overcome his grief and personal torments while finding his rightful place in the world.
The book written by psychologist Eva Clark, is also the latest project from Granity Studios, which Kobe founded in 2013 to enable young athletes to maximize their full potential through creative storytelling.
Kobe included Victoria's organization called The Hidden Opponent as a resource in the book because it serves to raise awareness for student-athlete mental health.
"It means everything. It's the support that will fuel our work at The Hidden Opponent for a lifetime," Victoria explained. "Knowing that he believed in this non-profit—this resource for student athletes—and believes in our community truly means the world and we're really grateful to have so many student athletes on our social media who want to share their stories and support each other."
And while Kobe received well deserved headlines for his skills on the basketball court, Victoria is happy to remind fans that his work away from any stadium deserves a trophy as well.
"Kobe obviously had an extremely successful sports career. He was working extremely hard to continue his legacy in his storytelling. He was passionate on inspiring and mentoring that next generation of players. This piece of work is unlike anything I think Kobe has put out for mental health, which truly makes it so special," she argued. "A lot of people will be surprised and maybe taken aback by how meaningful and detailed this book does depict mental health and that makes it all the more comforting that Kobe helped create this book and wants to share it's story."
If there was any doubt that Kobe continues to inspire athletes today after his shocking passing in January from a helicopter crash, Victoria recalled one recent interaction with a student athlete that proves the Lakers player's words will continue to resonate.
Just a couple of months ago, a football player came up to Victoria after she mentioned Kobe's work with mental health during a speakers event. His reaction is one Victoria won't soon forget.
"This player said, ‘I thought I was weak. I thought I wasn't figuring it out.' To hear Kobe acknowledge health and say you're still a strong player—I literally watched it change this man's life," she shared. "I think Kobe validating and bringing awareness to this in such an intimate way through this book will change so many lives and will make all of those athletes who are maybe struggling know that the greatest of them all is saying it's okay. We're going to have hills to climb but you can climb them."