The fans were in disbelief when the news about Kobe Bryant spread through social media like wildfire.
One of the greatest Lakers of all time, Kobe Bryant was no more. The 41-year old, five-time NBA champion, two-time final MVP perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
His 13-year old daughter Gianna Maria Onore Bryant was amongst the nine that were killed during the Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crash.
They were all going to Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. Gianna was scheduled to play on Sunday. Gianna represented the Lady Mavericks, basketball team.
Like many fans, I grew up watching Kobe Bryant play. This news has hit me hard because Kobe Bryant was the reason, I started following basketball as a fan in India. The mamba mentality attitude, a nickname he took after watching the movie Kill Bill, had captured the imagination of many young fans like me.
His killer instinct on the court and his ability to pull his team from behind despite being late in possesions is how fans remember him. He played for two-decades and represented the Los Angeles Lakers every single time. He was drafted by Charlotte Hornets right out of Marion High in Philadelphia at the age of 17.
Bryant was soon traded to Lakers for Vlade Divac and the rest is history.
Kobe Bryant didn’t get along with Lakers teammates
The beef that Kobe Bryant had with Shaquille O’Neal is very well documented in the media. The drama between the two used to be in talks despite there being no social media present at that time.
The pair managed to win three consecutive NBA titles (2000, 2001, 2002) and make an NBA Finals appearance in 2004. They played eight seasons together, but the spat between the two turned ugly and the Lakers had to trade Shaquille O’Neal to Maimi Heat in 2004.
Not just Shaq, the Black Mamba didn’t get along with his other Lakers teammates as well including the likes of Dwight Howard, who according to Kobe never put in the work like he did. He even wanted to be traded by the Los Angeles franchise in 2007.
“The happy-go-lucky stuff doesn’t work, I don’t care what anybody says,” Bryant said during 2015-16 season. “You have to have somebody that’s going to create that tension … a lightning rod“. (H/T – Medium)
Kobe was never in a business of pleasing others. He was always blunt to his coaches and his teammates. For him, nothing mattered more than winning and it is part of the reason why he won five titles.
Mentoring LeBron, Kyrie, DeMar etc
After winning championships in 2009 and 2010, the Black Mamba was going through tremendous downs. He underwent a series of injuries that hampered the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season.
It was during this downtime that he started offering counsel to fellow NBA players. Many of whom were title winners and MVPs. The name included the likes of Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Larry Nance Jr etc.
However, DeMar DeRozan is the player Bryant has had the most impact. The Spurs guard had a special bond with Mamba. He spent a large part of his career making plays that Bryant used to make and emulating him throughout his college and NBA career.
“Everything. Everything. Everything I learned came from Kobe. Everything,” DeRozan said. “Take Kobe away and I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have love, I wouldn’t have the passion and the drive. Everything. Everything came from him.
“Words can’t explain it. For myself, learning everything I’ve learned basketball-wise from Kobe, what he meant to the game, the inspiration that he brought to the world. Not just that. His daughter. I’m a father. I can’t imagine something like that happening. It’s a sad, sad, very sad, sad day.” (H/T – NBA)
DeRozan was also the hardest hit after hearing the tragic death of Kobe Bryant. Spurs coach Greg Popovich was seen consoling him.
This hit me hard. Pop consoling DeMar DeRozan before the game tonight. pic.twitter.com/rd9NVHTC4Y
— Evan Closky (@EvanClosky) January 26, 2020
Kobe Bryant’s career had hit the lowest in 2003 when he was accused of raping a 19-year old. The woman was working at the front desk of a hotel in Colorado. However, after a 20-month legal drama, the pair reached a settlement in March of 2005.
Kobe apologised to the women in a statement which he issued through his attorney. He had already pleaded not guilty in the court of law.
There were a few things he did after this incident to redeem himself. He became father to four girls and was actively involved in their life. ESPN used Kobe Bryant to advertise women’s college basketball as “Kobe conundrum”. Over the years he has used his platform to promote Women’s basketball.
His efforts have had far-reaching positive consequences and players are all praise for him. Sabrine Ionescu who plays for Oregon Ducks was very close with Kobe’s family. She got extremely emotional today when asked about the recent passing of the basketball legend.
— ESPN (@espn) January 26, 2020
“Everything I do, I do it for him, obviously,” Ionescu said on the ESPN broadcast after the game. “[He was a] really close friend. This season’s for him” Sabrina said.
Women’s basketball legend Rebecca Lobo went as far as saying that no one has supported the WNBA more than Bryant.
— Rebecca Lobo (@RebeccaLobo) January 26, 2020
“No NBA player supported the WNBA or women’s college basketball more than Kobe,” Lobo tweeted. “He attended games, watched on TV, coached the next generation. We pray for his family.”
WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert released a statement where she called Kobe a ‘Legend in our sport’.
Very heavy heart on loss of Kobe and his daughter and the others in the tragic crash today. Admired his Mamba mentality, and so grateful for Kobe’s support of the WNBA and girls basketball. Thoughts and prayers are with the Bryant family and other families impacted. #8 #24 pic.twitter.com/iXkDHUNT0P
— Cathy Engelbert (@CathyEngelbert) January 26, 2020
According to the Athletic, Bryant also recently hosted a camp for WNBA players in his iconic Mamba Academy.
In 2011, he again faced criticism for using a homophobic slur against a referee. He was fined $100,000 following this incident.
“My actions were out of frustration during the heat of the game, period. The words expressed do not reflect my feelings towards the gay and lesbian communities and were not meant to offend anyone.” Kobe apologised after this incident.
As if the statement weren’t enough, he took a step further and started working with the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and even called out a few of his supporters who used homophobic slurs.
Retirement and Grammy
Kobe Bryant captured the imagination of a generation with his out worldly skills. He retired from the league on 23rd April 2016 after dropping 60 points against Utah Jazz. After his retirement, he started Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, California.
Perhaps the greatest product of his academy is his second eldest daughter Gianna, who is also known as Gigi.
Bryant appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel Show in 2018 and said, “The best thing that happens is when we go out and she’ll be standing next to me and fans will come up to me like ‘Hey, you gotta have a boy, you and (Vanessa) gotta have a boy — somebody to carry on the legacy and the tradition’ and (Gigi) will be like ‘Oy, I got this. We don’t need a boy for that. I got this!’” (H/T – Star Tribune)
Bryant was enjoying his retirement enjoying the fruits of the investments he made throughout his professional career.
He even had his own entertainment company. He won an Oscar in 2018 for his animated short film ‘Dear Basketball‘.
People are capable of change and time and time again, Kobe has displayed that. We’ve all made major mistakes. Some bigger than others. Kobe was not an outlier. With that said, his legacy will forever live on.
Long live the Mamba!!