It was the news story that you didn’t want to believe.
But when multiple media outlets started to confirm the unthinkable, every basketball fan in the world began to pinch themselves, hoping and praying that they were dreaming. It’s not true, surely.
Sadly. It is.
Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven more people died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California as first reported by TMZ. Less than 24 hours before the 41-year-old’s death, he congratulated fellow Laker LeBron James on social media on passing him for third place in the all-time NBA scoring charts.
To many, Kobe was more than an NBA player who spent his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, winning five championships along with capturing two Olympic gold medals with Team USA. He was an inspiration, the reason why many started playing the game of basketball where they reached the NBA, EuroLeague or any level in our great sport.
San Antonio Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan, Washington Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas and even LeBron himself cited Bryant as their inspirations for playing and pursuing a career in basketball. Those three have gone on to be NBA All-Stars and for the latter, a champion, MVP and Olympic gold medalist.
There are thousands more that name Kobe as a hero to them but it’s an endless list of legends, stars and upcoming talent.
But why was he so admired, so popular? It was because of the dedication and time that he put into his craft. He was a master of the fadeaway jumper, he always wanted to make his team-mates better and most importantly, he was a leader.
From numerous game-winners to legendary performances that included the infamous 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006 and of course his swansong ten years later, when he dropped 60 points on the Utah Jazz, Bryant totalled 33,643 points in his career with 5,640 of those coming in the playoffs.
Bryant walked away from the court, but not from basketball. In 2016, he won an Oscar for best short animated film for ‘Dear Basketball’, a five-minute film based on a love letter to the sport he wrote in 2015.
There is no doubt that Bryant leaves a legacy for the sport of basketball that is almost impossible to be matched. We’ve all worn his jersey, laced up a Nike Kobe sneaker and we have tried to imitate a Kobe move when we have picked up a basketball at some point in our lives.
On a night of NBA action that will be unlike any other that you’ll ever watch (26 January), it’s a fitting tribute that teams are purposely letting their first possessions go to the end of the 24-second shot clock.
The number 24 was Kobe’s number.
But to Kobe, he was more than a basketball player. He was a family man as well with four children, the youngest of whom, Capri, was just seven months old. His teenage daughter Gianna – herself a basketball player with a bright future – was also killed. Words cannot describe how a parent must feel when your child with their whole life to lead and explore departs without getting that opportunity.
As the basketball world mourns one of the true greats. We are left with his best performances available online whenever we want to watch it. We are all left with those memories that will no doubt last forever.
Rest in paradise, Kobe and Gianna.