Anyone who has followed basketball at all for the last 25 years felt Kobe Bryant’s impact. So when the legendary Los Angeles Lakers star; his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; and seven other victims perished in a helicopter crash on Sunday, many people’s worlds shook.
I’m putting my thoughts into words because I feel it will help me process my own feelings about what happened.
I grew up watching Kobe Bryant play, but he was not the formative influence on my basketball life like he was for so many other people, including current NBA players, who were born after me. I came to appreciate the game around the same time Penny Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal lifted my hometown Orlando Magic into prominence, and indeed it was those players, along with the likes of Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan, and Shawn Kemp, who defined my basketball adolescence.
Kobe ascended a bit later, and I first saw him as a villain in the 2000 NBA Finals, when at age 22 he and O’Neal teamed to take down my beloved Pacers for the first of Bryant’s five NBA titles. Given the Lakers’ ubiquity as the first dynasty since Jordan’s second retirement, I can also recall many Sunday afternoons spent watching the Lakers rip other teams’ hearts out, with the NBA on NBC crew on the call, leaving the TV only at halftime to shoot jumpers in my driveway.
My interest in basketball waned in my early teens, such that I wasn’t as in tune with the game as Bryant continue to rack up titles and individual honors. But he was in his absolute prime when I first started Orlando Pinstriped Post, under the name Third Quarter Collapse, as a college student in 2007, and I recall spending many hours in my dorm room, reading about his exploits from NBA blogfathers like Henry Abbott, the FreeDark collective, and Tom Ziller. Just two years later, I was covering the NBA Finals between Bryant’s Lakers and the Magic for this site and on NBA.com.
Being a Magic-focused writer, I never ventured into the Lakers’ locker room or attended their practices during that series, and as a result I don’t have a Kobe story to tell. We never spoke. And when I recall the Magic’s gutting five-game loss in that series, it is not Bryant—the series MVP—who comes to the fore, but rather Derek Fisher, who drained crucial three-pointers in L.A.’s narrow win in Game Four of that series, which gave his team a decisive 3-1 advantage.
And yet despite not having grown up a Kobe fan, despite not having a single interaction with him in my brief time covering the sport he dominated for so long, nonetheless I ached when I heard the news of his passing, and I still ache when I think of it days later. Kobe meant, and still means, so much to so many people—fans, teammates, opponents, coaches, media—that I ache for them. Most of all I ache for his wife, Vanessa, and their three surviving daughters, Natalia, Bianka, and the six-month-old Capri. I cannot begin to comprehend what they must be feeling, and the fact that Capri will never know her father brings me to tears whenever I can bear to confront that fact.
We must also consider that Bryant was just starting his second act, both personally as a father and professionally as a mogul. Since his retirement in 2016 he won an Academy Award for writing the short film Dear Basketball, and had made appearances on ESPN’s various media platforms. He had so much left to offer us, and he may have reached people beyond the sports world had he lived. That he didn’t is a tragedy, one that I hope we can all get through together.
Thank you for reading. For more on Bryant’s life and legacy, I recommend these stories:
- ”Remembering Kobe Bryant: Relentless, curious and infinitely complicated,” by Jackie MacMullan, ESPN
- ”Kobe Bryant never stopped trying to inspire,” by Ramona Shellburne, ESPN
- ”How can Kobe Bryant be gone? His legend wasn’t supposed to end this way,” by Bill Plaschke, Los Angeles Times
- ”Remembering the uncompromising, incomparable Kobe Bryant on the cusp of full superstardom,” by Tim Kawakami, The Athletic
- ”Kobe Bryant’s death hit me hard, and even worse because of what we had in common,” by Marcus Thompson II, The Athletic
- ”A wake held in blissful ignorance: Appreciating Kobe Bryant’s final days,” by Bill Oram, The Athletic
- ”The making of an NBA icon,” by Howard Beck, Bleacher Report
- ”What made Kobe different,” by Jonathan Abrams, Bleacher Report
- ”Kobe Bryant was no more complicated than anyone else,” by Albert Burneko, Vice
- ”It is a terrible irony that Kobe Bryant should fall from the sky,” by Charles P. Pierce, Esquire