It was a typical Sunday afternoon at the sports desk at the Pilot Tribune. Going through emails, listening to coaching comments on the recording app on the smartphone and occasionally looking at social media to see if anything interesting is happening with the Pro Bowl. It was 1:44 p.m. when I saw a tweet that said “RIP Kobe.”
Curious, I began to look on Twitter a little more and sure enough I saw the news from TMZ first, and should’ve known better than to trust that source, but they were right in breaking the news first that Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others had perished in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles.
After sharing the news, I sat at my desk is a stunned state. This was Kobe Bryant, a guy who was only 41 who had become more than a basketball star. This was a guy I grew up watching quite a bit on NBC due to their contract with the NBA. This was a guy that I admittedly loved to hate because I didn’t like the Lakers.
Kobe Bryant was the first basketball superstar I saw from start to finish for his on the court career. The first time I heard his name was regarding the Lakers trading someone for him back in 1996 and then didn’t see him play until 1998 after Michael Jordan left the second time.
From there on, it seemed like the league belonged to Kobe Bryant for a few years. Yes, Shaq was still a thing, but the game gravitated towards Kobe who patterned himself after Michael Jordan, wanting to be a ruthless player with a win at all costs mentality.
And after five NBA Championships, Kobe did exactly that, falling just one title shy of tying MJ.
The first Lakers’ three peat that started the century might have been my biggest fandom of the NBA. I watched every game that NBC showed through the playoffs which meant there was a lot of Kobe Bryant on my TV. I remember the series against Portland and Sacramento vividly. I was overjoyed to recently find out those games live on YouTube.
Kobe Bryant just glided on the court. He had that aura that all the great players have. Yeah, he missed his fair share of big shots in big moments, but you miss every shot you don’t take.
Of course the shadow of what happened in Colorado will loom for some over Kobe Bryant’s legacy as a person. The man showed growth since that incident and suffered through some tough years with the Lakers after Shaq was traded.
Only once did Kobe’s professional loyalty waver but he stuck with the Lakers instead of going elsewhere. Then trades happened that benefited him to get his other two championships. His career kept going and I never thought it would end until he finally called it quits in 2016.
I had a rare night off for his final game and I watched it with a certain joy seeing him score 60 points. Sure, the Jazz let him take anything he wanted, but that was the respect Kobe Bryant had in the league.
Just look at the outpouring of respect and tears in the past few days since this tragic incident occurred. He was ruthless, he wasn’t liked by a lot of people, but he was respected by his peers and basketball fans for his elite level of play for so many years and the man he’d become with his children.
From all accounts that have been said, he loved his girls more than anything, and it gave him another career after his playing days. During ESPN’s coverage of the events of Saturday, they interviewed so many people in the hours after the news broke and the common theme was the love for his daughters, and how he also supported women’s basketball and wanted to see that grow.
Kobe Bryant was more than just a basketball player. He was a husband, a father, a son, a business man, an Oscar winner, a friend, a teammate and a hero to so many budding basketball players and fans.
There’s a reason why people yell “KOBE” when throwing a wad of waste into a trash bin. You see players today incorporating what he did in this game like his generation did with Jordan.
Kobe Bryant will be missed by so many for various reasons. I’ll be one of them.