It was a somber week for the NBA with the passing of Kobe Bryant, his beloved daughter Gigi, and seven others in a tragic helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles. The news ripped through the league, media, and fans like nothing else has in the modern era. Like many, it hit me hard as well.
I spent the better part of the week either fighting back tears or letting them flow at times. His death affected me more than I knew it would. It also made me think about why that is and who Kobe was as a person, flaws and all.
His impact on the game was and is otherworldly. He touched everyone involved in game. Period. His presence and aura was so strong that it elevated him into the stratosphere of cultural icons. Your favorite celebrity’s favorite player was probably Kobe.
While he ruled Hollywood on the court and red carpet with his beaming smile, Bryant had his demons, too. We cannot speak about his legacy without mentioning his actions that victimized a woman in Colorado. He was at the same time an adored global star, and an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault. The two are irreconcilable and yet they were part of Bryant.
As we come to terms with his loss, we’ll struggle to find our own peace with the person that he became. He grew up in the spotlight, before all of our eyes, dazzling us on the court on his way to five NBA Championships. That is how most people remember Kobe, the basketball phenomenon.
Kobe was the Jordan of his generation. He so modeled his game after him that you can watch hours of YouTube videos of footage of them pulling off the same remarkable moves. Bryant also shared Michael’s drive. He was ruthless on the floor and his will to win remains unmatched today. That he’s a five-time champion is testament to that.
There were other options to choose from on the list of our most memorable Kobe moments. I chose his Olympic runs in 2008 and 2012. I guess I was one of the few who did so. Specifically, I remember the Gold Medal game against Spain in 2008 when Kobe was a member of the Redeem Team.
I was watching the game on a tiny 13-inch TV with rabbit ears in my apartment. At the time, I was in an intense argument about something with my then girlfriend and Team USA was struggling against the Spaniards. I couldn’t tell you what the argument was about. I can tell you what Kobe did, though.
Late in the game, as Team USA continued to waver, Bryant took over. In a flurry of buckets, he led the US to victory, silencing the crowd—literally, he shushed them, putting his raised left index finder to his mouth—who thought they smelled American blood in the water. It was one of the most impressive individual performances I have ever witnessed.
That girlfriend, now happily married and living elsewhere, was one of the first people to reach out to me shortly after the passing of Bryant. And that’s the impact Kobe had on all of us, whether he knew it or not. He was a ubiquitous figure in all of our lives for over 20 years. That he touched so many of us is why we mourn as individuals as much as we mourn for his family and those of the others lost with him.
As we move further and further away from the tragedy, a semblance of normalcy will return. We’ll never understand the grief and loss of those directly affected, but we will always feel for them. In the wake of his death, basketball didn’t stop. You can debate the merits of that decision, but I won’t do it here.
Instead we’ll look to the game that Bryant loved as a distraction from sorrow. Getting lost in that distraction can be its own kind of healing. With that, we can turn to the Dallas Mavericks. It doesn’t seem right to include the fans’ confidence in today’s post. But I’m going to do it anyway.
He was far from a perfect person, but Kobe Bryant meant more to the NBA and the game of basketball than we can ever imagine. But what we should take away from his passing is how much he meant to and cared for his family.