Former Los Angeles Lakers guard and five-time NBA Champion Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others died Jan. 26, 2020, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA. In the wake of the two-year anniversary of his death, our sports staff gave their thoughts on remembering Bryant.
I was not a Lakers fan growing up, but I admired Kobe Bryant for his passion and willingness to do whatever it took to win. Bryant impacted so many basketball fans. Through school, every time my friends and I threw anything in the trash, we yelled ‘Kobe!’ His talent was obvious, but I gravitated towards how he led his teammates and demanded the best from them. I was in the Botsford-Swinford laundry room when I heard Kobe died, and I remember I couldn’t leave my dorm for the rest of the day because I was so sad. To this day, I read Braynt’s famous quotes and watch his interviews for motivation.
When I started watching basketball in 2011, I was a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder and preached how Kevin Durant was the best player in the NBA. People tried to dispute me and say LeBron James was the best player, or Dirk Nowitzki, who had won an NBA Championship the previous season with the Dallas Mavericks. I shrugged those two off, but there was one name I always found difficulty arguing against — Kobe Bryant.
In 2011, Bryant’s days with the Lakers were numbered, but we didn’t know. Kobe caught my attention whenever I saw him play. I heard analysts mention Kobe's stats and I got curious and looked up his highlights. Then more of his highlights. Then countless clutch shots. Then an 81-point game. Then the times he competed against Michael Jordan as an 18-year old. After binging old basketball clips, I had an odd and newfound respect for Kobe. While the memorable Kobe Bryant moments would be few and far between from 2011 onward, Kobe remained one of my personal favorites. When he played his final game against the Utah Jazz April 13, 2016, I sat in awe as he had one last true Mamba Moment. When Kobe died, I honestly thought it was a prank — but slowly through Sunday afternoon the details came out and the sports world and basketball world really felt it. The loss of Kobe is still felt today.
From a young age, my parents put me in every sport they could. Basketball took my interest and became my favorite sport to play and watch. Bryant was a huge factor in this because he played without any care for the crowd, his opponents and his teammates. All he cared about was putting the ball in the basket and winning. Winning at all costs. The 2010 NBA Finals between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics is the first Finals I remember watching. Having lost to the Celtics in the Finals in 2008, Kobe was out for revenge. He took over and led the Lakers to their second consecutive championship. I have the iconic picture of Kobe standing on the scorer's table picture hanging up in my room. Kobe was great because he inspired millions of kids with his spectacular play. In fact, there are many players in the league today who shape their game around his. Almost everyone who knows basketball has said "Kobe!" when throwing something away. His fashion influenced multiple styles during the 2000s. I remember being mad I couldn't get tickets to see him on his farewell tour in the 2015-16 season, but I watched most of his games. In fact, in the last game of the season, I decided between watching the final game of Kobe or the Golden State Warriors attempt to break the regular-season record. Most basketball fans, myself included, chose Kobe's game instead.
All of this is why Kobe’s death impacted me. It feels like he died last month, but it’s been two years. It was a terrible day for everyone, let alone the basketball world. One of the greatest players of all time died along with his daughter Gianna and seven others. Gianna scored the basketball and would've played college and professional basketball. I checked seven or eight different outlets to confirm the news. My Instagram and Snapchat feeds were filled with pictures of Kobe and Gianna, and it got to the point where I turned off social media for the rest of the day because I was sad. I’m in disbelief and every time I see a picture of him or see him in the NBA 2K video game, I say either to myself or out loud, "Man I still can't believe he's gone."
The first NBA game I distinctly remember watching all the way through was Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Celtics and Lakers. I'm sure I had watched games before, but this one impacted me. It was this game I became enamored with one man, Kobe. Bryant won his fifth ring, and the iconic picture of Bryant on the scorer's table with his arms outstretched was taken. I immediately loved Kobe and wanted to watch not only more of him, but more basketball.
When Kobe passed away, I was sitting with my family at Cracker Barrel after church. We finished up our meal and I saw the news across my phone home screen. I didn't want to believe Kobe, at 41 years old and a man who had finished playing basketball four years earlier, was dead. I couldn't believe his daughter Gianna and the seven others died. As the basketball world mourned, so did I.
In hindsight, I'm thankful for the memories Kobe gave me from my first watching experience. He captivated my imagination, but also children and adults across the world. As great of a basketball player as Kobe was, I remember him for the man he was. He was responsible for how the game is played today and the growing popularity and equality of women's basketball. I can’t believe it's been two years, but I'm thankful to have witnessed his greatness.
When I started watching and caring about basketball, I disliked Kobe. He beat my favorite team, the Orlando Magic, in the 2009 NBA Finals. In 2012, my favorite player, Dwight Howard, was traded to the Lakers to join Bryant, which made me despise him even more. However, my dislike for Bryant slowly dissipated into respect. After each of his injuries, I thought, "Surely this is the year Kobe finally slows down and retires," but he kept going. During his final season, my respect turned into love. I saw Bryant impact the NBA and the game of basketball by inspiring many young players. I stayed up to watch the entirety of Kobe's against Utah, and the infamous "Mamba Out" speech. During his retirement, the NBA felt empty, like it was missing something. The same can be said for the league today.
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing. I was leaving my bedroom to prepare to drive to my sister's basketball game. When I grabbed my keys, I saw the television in my parents' bedroom and ESPN was talking about Kobe. I thought nothing of it because I thought they were doing a feature story. As I listened to sports talk radio during my drive, they discussed Kobe. However, something was off in their voices. I thought Kobe might've been sick or been arrested. As I pulled into the parking lot, my worst fears were confirmed. I heard the radio host say, "If you're just now joining us, Kobe Bryant has died." My heart sunk. The man I once hated, then respected, then loved, had died, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others. He had his entire life ahead of him. He won an Oscar in 2018 for best animated short film and become a youth basketball coach. Everyone I knew, even those who never watched a basketball game in their lives, was sad. He impacted the world. I'll never forget the impact one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Kobe Bryant, made in my life.