A helicopter crash over the city of Calabasas, killing the 9 people onboard.. a tragedy. Of course, all the lives lost in this crash are equally devastating; however, I want to hone in on 2 people who were on that helicopter… a true legend and his daughter, whose loss have made the Earth stand still.
After the news filtered through, I was in complete shock. This simply could not be true? It must be a hoax, surely? Then the slow realisation that it is true. The sudden deaths of Kobe and Gianna Bryant hit me very hard. At the ages of 41 and 13 years old, they were embarking on the next chapter of their lives – Kobe with his ventures in retirement life and Gianna in working to become a great female basketball player, following in the footsteps of her father.
It was only a few weeks ago I was watching the Dallas Mavericks play the LA Lakers on TV and Luka Doncic, one of young stars of the NBA, had a jovial interaction with both Kobe and Gianna. He stated after the game that he heard a member of the crowd heckling him in Slovenian, his native tongue, and, curious as to who it was, turned around to see who it was. It was Kobe himself. Initial shock turned into a beaming smile on Luka’s face as he realised one of the greatest to ever play the game was messing around with him. A handshake then followed as Kobe paid respect to the young talent. I really enjoyed watching this interaction between a young talent and a legend, and the clear respect that was on show between them. This continued after the game, as Luka took the time to get a photo with Gianna, an excited smile now appearing on her face. In a moment that may have gone unnoticed to many, Kobe removed his beanie to take a photo with Luka, which for me, just epitomised his classy nature. These series of moments were heart-warming to watch as a viewer. Now they have become heart-breaking to remember.
I refer to Kobe as a true legend because that’s what he is. A true legend. He won an MVP during the 2007/08 season. He won 2 NBA Finals MVP awards. He won 5 NBA Championships with the Lakers. He made the All-NBA First-Team 11 times, second only to LeBron James. He also scored 33, 643 points in the regular season, 4th on the all-time list, having been overtaken by LeBron the Sunday before last. He also spent 20 seasons with the Lakers. Yes, you read that correctly. 20 seasons. Nearly my entire lifespan with one organisation. Only Dirk Nowitzki, who had 21 seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, has had a longer one- franchise career in the NBA. These are the pick of his vast array of accolades on the court and they are incredible. A mark of greatness.
However, what separates the ‘very goods’ from the greats… the greats from the legends? Well, for me, Kobe reached true legend status in his final game against Utah Jazz. I remember the mad hype before the game, hearing people had bought tickets for approximately £20,000 to watch Kobe’s final hurrah in a Lakers jersey. I stayed up to watch the game hoping that he would have a fairytale end to his career. And my goodness, he did not disappoint. Kobe put up 60 points in his final game, which was the first time since 2009 that he had hit 60. Most players dream of doing this whilst in their prime, let alone in their final game when their body lacked the power it once did. That is what Kobe was all about. The Mamba mentality. He had a competitive edge like no other player did, which at times frustrated people, but ultimately made him a legend.
Kobe inspired a generation of athletes, much like Jordan before him and his successor LeBron. A testament to Kobe’s legendary status was also witnessed through the gargantuan impact he had on kids and cultures across the world. For example, here in the UK, Kobe was a household name, even though basketball is far from a national sport like in the US and many other countries. As a teenager, every time one would go to throw something in the bin they would yell ‘KOBE’ or ‘LeBron’. Every single time. He was ingrained in the culture and hardly any athletes could have that impact. Moreover, I distinctly remember watching a video of him over and over when I was younger, where an opposing player faked a pass from the sideline into Kobe’s face and Kobe stood there, without flinching. I still don’t understand how he did this, but it remains a sight to behold.
Now, I’ve spoken about his impact as a player so far. But there was so much more to Kobe. Yes, he came with controversies that cannot be ignored. For example, in 2003 there were accusations of rape from a 19-year-old woman. This did end with criminal charges being dropped, and so I don’t want to focus on it, but it certainly clouded what was an unblemished public image.
Furthermore, Kobe made some controversial comments on the Trayvon Martin case, which angered a large share of the populace. Nonetheless, in a recent article I read in The Atlantic, it was clear that Kobe had strong opinions on all manner of things, but he was always trying to learn and improve himself (I retweeted the article on the TNS twitter page so read it on there). He later changed his opinions on the Martin case, apologising to the family and vocally calling out police brutality from that point onwards. This demonstrates how he admitted when he was wrong, a trait that many of us struggle with. I alluded to these 2 cases, as it is crucial to remember the good and the bad, as that’s what makes us human. We all make mistakes.
I always thought he came across so well in interviews. He oozed charisma, as well as a calm exterior, as if nothing really phased him. I suppose nothing did compared to the pressures of being the Lakers star man for 20 years. A fierce competitor on the court and an inspiring figure off it. This is why I was in awe of him in recent years. He inspired so many great athletes around the world. For example, Djokovic was visibly downbeat after his recent win against Raonic in the Australian Open, mentioning the close relationship he had with Kobe and how the advice he gave to Djokovic over his career had really helped him. Every tweet or article you see all express the same message – that Kobe inspired them to be better. The man even won an Oscar after his retirement… as if there was no end to his list of achievements. If you haven’t read his poem ‘Dear Basketball’ or watched the short animated short film that won the Academy Award, then I would highly recommend. It was was the first Oscar win for any professional athlete, with so many more exciting ventures to follow.
His legacy was also defined by his family life. You have probably seen #girldad trending on Twitter in the past few days, in response to a powerful news segment, whereby the anchor detailed how Kobe had stated this verbatim when she met him. I think this distinguishes him again. He mentioned on talk shows how people always said “Hey Kobe, you gonna try for a boy?”, with the implicit suggestion that a boy would continue his basketball legacy. Yet, Kobe and Vanessa had 4 girls in the end, and they took such pride in their daughters. Kobe became a keen advocate of the WNBA, using his platform to help bring it into the mainstream.
Of course, it appeared that Gianna was hoping to some day play in the WNBA. I never saw her play, but it was fairly unanimous that she had a special talent, which Kobe himself often stated. With a role model and coach such as her father, the world was Gianna’s oyster. She had so much potential, her whole life ahead of her.
There was one video which brought an emotional smile to my face, constantly hitting the ‘play again’ option when it finished. The video was of Kobe and Gianna once again sitting court-side and he was breaking down the game to her. A description does not do the video justice, but it highlights the bond they had. It reminded me so much of the way my father used to interact with my sister, with such admiration and care. The photo they had on the same night, the one that is used for every commemoration you see online, crushes me. I had to use it for the image accompanying this piece. A snapshot that captures pure happiness and love.. of feeling blessed. You can just see the immense amount of love Kobe had for his family, and that they had for him.
Their deaths have hit me extremely hard, as it has many people across the world. I know what it’s like to have everything taken away from you suddenly, the one you love no longer being there. Feeling powerless, alone. Much like all transcendent stars, Kobe had a degree of immortality that he carried, and that’s why the manner of his death seems surreal. A freak accident. When events like this happen it makes you question what life is really about. It makes you question what the point is. Yet, I have been thinking long and hard this week after the crash, as it brought up a lot of emotions I prefer to keep buried. Kobe and Gianna died knowing they were loved by the other and that holds great power. We have to live each day with a smile on our face, with a positive attitude. You just do not know what is around the corner, and whilst that can be a frightening thought, it can also be a most welcome one. Life can be hard and cruel, but it can also be full of love and wonder. This was a tragedy; yet, in time, it should make us think how we have to make the most of our lives. To love. To enjoy. To smile. We don’t move forward because we want to, but because we have to.
P.S. I have written a little sticky note and placed it on the wall next to my bed. It simply states: Mamba Mentality, and I am going to try to embody that.
Rest in peace to the 9 souls aboard that helicopter.