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The life and legacy of Kobe Bryant

February 12, 2020

The reality is finally starting to set in that Kobe Bryant isn’t coming back.

The Los Angeles Lakers legend, widely regarded as one of the ten best players in NBA history, died tragically in a helicopter crash two weeks ago in Calabasas, California. Onboard there were nine people, including one of his four daughters, 13-year-old Gianna Bryant.

The nine people that died in the helicopter crash: John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Gianna Bryant, Kobe Bryant.

The nine victims of the horrific tragedy will never be forgotten, as the entire sports world mourns the loss of an all-time great player and father, we must not forget the other lives lost. Those people are fathers, mothers, daughters, friends and family and they matter, too.

As for Kobe, he was the most dominant, clutch player in the NBA for the better part of a decade; he was must-see TV, he was box office, he was electric, and everybody knew it. To add to his legend, he did it on the biggest stage in the NBA -- Los Angeles.

Like so many others that are between the ages of 18 and 35, my Kobe Bryant story goes back to childhood. When I first started watching the NBA, circa 2008, Kobe was still at the height of his powers.

I fell in love with the game of basketball as an eleven-year-old boy watching Lebron James and Kobe Bryant. Each night after school I looked forward to going home and watching the NBA on TNT. James’ games were typically played earlier in the night because he played in the Eastern Conference; whereas Bryant’s were played on the west coast, typically at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Because of the time zone difference, Lakers games usually tipped off around 11 p.m. our time -- dangerously close to my bedtime. Many nights I would tell my parents I was going to bed, pretend to be asleep, and then turn the TV on and watch Lakers games once the coast was clear. All of that effort just to see one man play basketball -- Kobe.

Bryant is the reason so many of us as kids fought to get the number 24 on our basketball jerseys, he’s the reason we all yell “Kobe” when we shoot something into the trash, he’s one of the reasons the NBA is a global brand and his greatness on and off the court is the reason we’re seeing the largest outpouring of support for an athlete’s death of all-time.

Kobe’s passing is the first celebrity death that has ever made me cry. I’m sure that I’m not alone in that sentiment. We grew up watching him. I’ve always heard about the greatness of Michael Jordan, but I’m not old enough to have ever seen him play. For many of us, Kobe was Jordan. We cheered when he won his fifth championship in 2010, we cried when he tore his Achilles in 2013 and we celebrated when he scored 60 points in his final NBA game.

Although Bryant had great success on the court, he did have off the court issues after he was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003. According to ESPN, The criminal case against Bryant was eventually dropped in 2004. However, in August of that year, the accuser filed a civil case against Bryant. A case that a year later was settled out of court with undisclosed settlement terms.

It’s hard to put into context the greatness of his career: five NBA titles, two Finals MVP’s, an 18-time All-Star, 11-time All-NBA First Team selection, nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team and the only player in NBA history to have two jerseys retired by one team -- 8 and 24 for the Lakers.

Despite all of those accomplishments, I think Bryant would say that his greatest achievement was being a dad to his four daughters. In every interview, conversation, and article he talked about his daughters and made sure to ask about other people’s children. He was infatuated with kids and helping them succeed.

Bryant served as an ambassador for After-School All-Stars, a program that provided after school options to children in cities across the United States. He and his wife Vanessa also created the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation which was designed to help young people grow as individuals through sports and helping the homeless. Bryant was making strides to have his retirement from basketball be as successful as his career on the court.

And now we will never get to see the full success of his second career as a philanthropist and father.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a sports fan was cry while putting on my Kobe Bryant jersey to watch the game on Friday night celebrating his life. Watching the Staples Center pay tribute to a legend. Watching people from all over the world show their support and celebrate his life.

The reality is that Kobe will live on forever through memories and shared experiences. It just hurts knowing that there are some things that we will never get to see him do.

We’ll never get to hear him give his Hall of Fame speech, we’ll never get to hear him needle Shaq about having one more championship than him, we’ll never get to hear him give his speech when they build his statue outside of Staples Center, and we’ll never get to see him continue being the best father he could be.

For the entire world, it doesn’t seem real that he’s gone. Perhaps we can take solace in the fact that he died doing what he loved most -- being a father and taking his child to her basketball game.

Reagan Hoverman is a student at UW-River Falls.


Mike Dorsher, Ph.D. on 13 Feb 2020: All of the above can be true, but Kobe Bryant's mortality should also remind us that he was an imperfect human: https://www.latimes.com/sports/story/2020-01-26/what-happened-kobe-bryant-sexual-assault-case