And not forgetting the nine lives that were lost
Tragedy struck on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 26. Nine people were killed in a helicopter crash just a little ways outside of Los Angeles.
Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Orange Coast college baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa, basketball coach Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton and the pilot Ara Zobayan all lost their lives.
The crash itself is still currently being investigated as people and authorities try and discern exactly what happened. The Los Angeles area and the nation itself is trying to find ways to move forward while remembering and honoring those that were lost.
Kobe Bryant was a polarizing figure both on and off the court. He was loved by Laker fans and hated by non-Laker fans. Some teammates loved his passion, but a few thought his extreme intensity did more harm than good.
In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual assault by a young woman who worked at a hotel. The woman said that she ended up in Bryant’s hotel room where he raped her.
As the story progressed, Kobe maintained to the face that he believed that everything was consensual. Kobe vehemently apologized to his wife and his fans for committing adultery.
Kobe had no issues such as this before or after it happened. The case never went to trial as Bryant and the accuser settled out of court.
The point is Kobe Bryant, and the legacy he left behind, made people feel something. He affected and touched thousands of lives. To some, Kobe Bryant was their hero. He was seen as an inspirational, and almost a godlike figure for basketball fans growing up in Los Angeles
Throughout the last week, it seems like everyone in the sports world has their own “Kobe story.” Love him or hate him, Kobe Bryant was a prominent figure not just in sports, but in the world on his time on Earth.
We take a look at five aspects of who he was as a basketball player, but more importantly as a person.
Kobe: The Player
Within the first few years of his career, there was a metaphorical passing of the torch from Michael Jordan to Kobe. Bryant’s first season as a starter was in 1998-1999, in which he averaged 19.9 points. He wouldn’t fall below that mark until his knee injury 15 years later. Kobe won three straight championships from 2000-2002. His harshest critics said that those were Shaq’s championships, not Kobe’s. When O’Neal left the team in 2004, the Lakers truly became Kobe’s team.
Kobe dominated the 2000s. His most dominant years were in 2006 and 2007 when he won back-to-back scoring titles, followed by his lone MVP season in 2008. In a game against the Raptors in 2006, Kobe scored 81 points, the second-most ever in an NBA game. His career-high came in 2006 when he averaged 35.4 points per game. Only James Harden has had a higher average over a season since the 1987-1988 season. Bryant would win two more championships in 2009 and 2010. He was named Finals MVP in both Finals series. 2012 was the last year Kobe made the playoffs. A few years after that, he would tear his Achilles tendon and then fracture his knee in the following season. His career came to an end in 2016 in miraculous Kobe fashion. He dropped 60 points in his swan song against the Jazz.
Once the rubble cleared, it was clear that Kobe was dominant even when compared to other NBA legends. He made All-Defense 12 times, All-NBA 15 times, and was an All-Star 18 times. He currently stands fourth all-time in points, first in made free throws and top 20 in win shares, steals, minutes and games played. Looking away from the stat sheet, no player has a more impressive highlight reel than Kobe. The Black Mamba made 36 game-winning shots during his 20 seasons with the Lakers.
What doesn’t get talked about enough is Kobe’s insane work ethic. The stories go on and on. His teammates recall him showing up to practice hours before anyone else. Former teammate Byron Scott describes a time where hours before practice he found Kobe shooting hoops with all of the lights turned off. Shaquille O’Neal said he stumbled across Bryant practicing in the gym without using a basketball. In high school, he would make his teammates play one-on-one games with him to 100 points. Kobe stated that in his worst matchup, he won 100 to 12.
His work ethic is reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s. Kobe looked up to Jordan when he entered the league, and Jordan acknowledged that Bryant was the only one to even come close to his work ethic and competitiveness. His competitiveness was best shown when he tore his Achilles. Even though he could barely walk, he still got up to sink his two free throws rather than let the opposing team choose who shoots them. I really got into the NBA when I picked up NBA 2k8 for my PlayStation 2. Kobe was always my go-to first pick in Street and Tournament modes. It was like combining the athleticism of Vince Carter with the shooting of Dirk Nowitzki and the defense of Gary Payton. His character and persona will be sorely missed in the NBA community.
Kobe: The Mentor
Bryant was seen as a hero by the NBA’s younger players due to his ability to make impossible shots and his ‘Mamba Mentality.’ After he retired from the game of basketball, Bryant really took it upon himself to mentor the younger players and give them advice on how to improve their game.
Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens put it best when describing Kobe’s impact on players today, “These guys, I’d say most of the guys in the league, the way that I’d describe it is… Kobe’s their Jordan.”
Kyrie Irving was understandably devastated after he got word that Bryant had passed away. Bryant has been on the record saying that the current player that he was closest to in the league was Kyrie. They had a special bond as after Kyrie won the NBA Finals in 2016, he FaceTimed Bryant from the locker room while the rest of his teammates were celebrating.
In 2017, Kobe famously tweeted out challenges to specific athletes on what he wanted to see out of them in the upcoming season. However, Giannis Antetokounmpo did not receive a challenge from Bryant, but that didn’t stop him from asking Bryant for one. Kobe promptly responded with three simple letters, “MVP.” The Greek Freak took home the 2019 MVP award.
Kobe launched his “Detail” series on ESPN+ during the 2018 NBA playoffs where he would analyze a specific player and go over what they could do better and what he would do in that situation. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum took it to heart as he was ecstatic that his childhood hero took the time to analyze his game, “I’ve probably watched Kobe Bryant’s ‘Detail’ critique video like 25 times already.”
In August of 2019, Bryant held an invite-only camp where the attendees would go through strength training, on-court training and video work with Bryant, Lakers skills coach Phil Handy and more. The players who received an invite and were in attendance were Kyrie Irving, Isaiah Thomas, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Jamal Murray, Buddy Hield, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jordan Clarkson, John Collins, Aaron Gordon and De’Aaron Fox.
Bryant and Hawks guard Trae Young had a growing relationship as Young was Kobe’s daughter Gianna’s favorite player in the NBA. Young talked to Kobe over facetime just a day before Bryant passed away. “He was just happy for me,” he continued. “He was saying how proud he was of me and how he wants to continue seeing me be a role model for kids growing up and just for Gigi and all of the kids looking up to me and continue to inspire these kids and continue to play my heart out…”
Although Bryant is gone, he will not be forgotten. The impact he has had on this generation of NBA players is too strong. Kyrie put it best when describing how Kobe would impact people, “But it was what he helped you see inside of yourself. It wasn’t the words. It was something inside you he knew was there, but you had to tap into it. And he tapped into it all the time when he was playing the game of basketball when he was around his family. He’s getting his just due and his legacy now, more than ever. You don’t have to worry about anyone not being on Kobe’s side. I’ve been on Kob’s side for a long time. That’s what I remember, all-encompassing our relationship. It’s deeper than basketball.”
Kobe: The Business Man
By the age of 30, Kobe Bryant was already a legend. Every basketball fan growing up from then on would know his name.
But he desired to be so much more.
In December of 2018, Kobe was asked if it was true that he loved business as much as he loved basketball.
“It’s 100% true.”
In that same interview with Barstool’s Dan Katz and former baseball star Alex Rodriguez Kobe expanded on preparing for life without basketball.
“Here’s the thing, when I was playing teammates would be saying oh Kobe’s not out on the road, what he’s doing…I’m practicing, I’m writing, I’m practicing, I’m understanding how to tell stories. I’m reading Joseph Campbell and how to create arts, compelling arts…”
It is apparent in his playing days Kobe did not see himself as just a basketball player. He had this thirst for knowledge that separated himself from others.
“I don’t just retire, write “Dear Basketball” and luck into winning an Oscar,” Kobe noted with a laugh.
“Dear Basketball” is a poem that Kobe released during his final season in the NBA. Then in 2017 with the help of Glen Keane, Kobe made the poem into a short film by the same.
Bryant became the first professional athlete to win an Oscar when “Dear Basketball” won the Academy Award for best animated short film.
If we look deeper we can find even further evidence of the curiosity Kobe had for the world. In his office in California, Kobe didn’t decorate the room with the trophies, awards or countless accolades he had obtained in his career. Instead, his walls were filled with the likes of Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling and Walt Disney.
Bryant never allowed himself to take time off.
“…I told somebody, I said listen, if what I do in my next 20 years is not better than my last 20 then I failed.”
Quotes like this show that it should have come by no surprise when he and Jeff Stibel released Bryant Stibel & co. venture capital fund in the same year he retired. The work for Bryant never started and ended on the basketball floor.
As of Sep. of 2019 Bryant Stibel & co. had reportedly amassed over two billion, yes billion with a ‘b’, in resources from their investments.
Oh and then there’s Kobe inc. who made a small investment in BodyArmor (which can now be found in any gas station or supermarket) that turned into over 200 million when the Coca-cola company joined in.
Kobe is also a published author and founded the Mamba Academy to train and develop young athletes. The academy coincided with the charitable Mamba Sports Foundation.
Bryant was dominating the business world when he passed away, but it is easy to see he was just getting started.
Kobe: The Father
The world knows Kobe as a Laker, a 5-time NBA champion, an MVP, one of the greatest to ever step foot on a basketball court and even an Oscar winner.
Kobe remains a father before an athlete. This was especially showcased after his exit from the NBA. His former Lakers teammate, Robert Horry, said that after his retirement he became a different person. He remarked, “When we get done playing, the reality is, our kids are the most important thing in the world.”
This was true for Kobe. Scrolling through his Instagram feed which is full of pictures of the Bryant family, you’ll see his wife, Vanessa, and four beautiful daughters, Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri.
In a now-viral clip, ESPN’s Elle Duncan recalls meeting him, and when she told him she was pregnant with a girl, Kobe told her, “Just be grateful you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing” and added, “I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”
After his retirement in 2016, Bryant opened his own sports academy where he coached his daughter Gianna’s youth basketball team. In his role as coach, he instilled in the team the same hard-working mentality he had.
He’s pridefully said that Gianna was better than him at that age. In a 2018 Jimmy Kimmel interview, Kobe said this about his daughter, “The best thing that happens when we go out, fans will come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me and they’ll be like, ‘Hey, you gotta have a boy! You and V gotta have a boy to have somebody to carry on the tradition and the legacy.’ [Gianna’s] like, ‘Hey, I got this! You don’t need a boy for that.’”
Kobe saw in Gianna the greatness he saw in himself. He believed in her, pushed her, coached her, and loved her at the same time. The pair were often seen sitting courtside at NBA games, breaking down plays and talking to players like Atlanta’s Trae Young, who she regarded as one of her favorites. He did everything he could to get her ready for her inevitable stardom on the court.
Nobody knows why Kobe and Gianna’s stories ended the way they did. A wife lost her husband of 19 years and her 13-year-old daughter on the same day. Three girls lost a sister and a father. Kobe was taken away from the world just as he was starting his next chapter in life, committing to being a devoted father, husband, and coach.
Kobe: The Global Icon
In a way, it was almost like Kobe Bryant was destined to become a global icon. Although Bryant was born in Philadelphia, he moved to Italy at the age of six when his dad went to play basketball in the European leagues. There he learned to speak fluent Italian and became quite the soccer fan as well.
Kobe, of course, entered the NBA at age 18 in 1996. Immediately he had an impact on the global market with his explosive style of play. The biggest market he affected was China.
By the time Kobe got to the NBA China had already started to take interest in basketball and the Mamba helped turn the country into Laker fans. Today, according to the NBA Red Car study, the Warriors have taken that title from the Lakers. However, one thing never changed, Kobe Bryant is still one of the most popular NBA players in China.
Bryant has always had some involvement with China throughout and after his NBA career. All the way back in 2007 he was attending the opening ceremony of a Nike store in Taipei. More recently he had attended the 2018 FIBA Basketball World Cup in China as a global ambassador.
Kobe himself has called China his “home away from home” and said that, “their love of the game kept me coming back,” when asked about his basketball clinic in China that he had done almost yearly since 1998.
The news of Kobe’s death was felt in China largely the same way as it was here in the States. The 300 million basketball fans in China grieved, the sports broadcasters spoke of his historic legacy, and those closest to him reminisced with their favorite Mamba stories.
The same shockwave along with his influence wasn’t just felt in China and the United States either. Kobe had stayed connected to his roots in Italy and Europe where he had spent so much time as a kid. He had advertisement deals with chocolate companies and even Turkish airlines that had commercials played in over 80 countries.
He also remembered his time as a young soccer fan and has formed close ties with soccer superstars Lionel Messi and Neymar who have both publicly addressed their feelings about their friend’s death.
Even in other sports like hockey, players are coming out on to the ice bearing the number 24 on their back to pay their respect to the star. The list of Kobe’s influence could go on forever, but what all this shows is that the loss of Kobe isn’t just a loss for basketball here in the US, but the entire world.