By Alex Berkman
On January 26, 2020, hazardous weather conditions in the LA metropolitan area caused the 991 Sikorsky S-76B helicopter to spin out of control. The result: a helicopter crash into the Hollywood Hills, in which all nine passengers, including the pilot, were left dead. Two of the victims included the former NBA player Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant. Kobe Bryant was forty one, while Gianna was just thirteen.
When word originally broke out that a helicopter crash resulted in Kobe Bryant’s fatal death, via a TMZ report, many believed that this was, in other words, “fake news.” It could not be true. I mean this was Kobe we are talking about. Man is invincible, right? But as news outlet after news outlet confirmed, and re-confirmed TMZ’s initial report, reality began to settle in. I mean, reality set in that there was in fact a helicopter crash. But at the same time, no one believed that Kobe could be dead. Kobe cannot die; he is above the secular nature of the world; things like this do not happen to people like Kobe, we thought. To this day, I still have a difficult time understanding how the man who made millions of children like myself fall in love with the game of basketball is gone, gone forever. Gone but never forgotten.
Kobe Bryant’s career was a thing of legend. He was arguably the greatest basketball player of his time, yet also the most polarizing figure to ever step foot on NBA hardwood. He won five championships, earned an NBA record fifteen selections for All-NBA teams and twelve for All-Defensive teams. That being said, his long list of accolades and achievements do not serve him justice for the ultimate competitor he was. The self-proclaimed “Black Mamba” took on a way of life that required extreme focus, discipline, and most importantly the “Mamba Mentality.” When Kobe stepped on the court, it was abundantly clear that not only did he hoped to beat his opponent, he wanted to embarrass his opponent, he wanted to kill his opponent, he wanted to make sure that his opponent knew who he was. He was Kobe “Bean” Bryant. His work ethic, in particular, was truly unparalleled. Once, Kobe played an entire second half of a game left handed because he injured his right shoulder. Once, Shaq recalled that Kobe used to practice without a ball to help improve his conditioning. Once, during his rookie year, Kobe was found getting shots up… in a dark gym. It is very easy to continue on about Kobe’s legendary work ethic; because truthfully, it was unlimited.
Kobe’s obsession with the game and with winning often resulted in backlash from coaches, the media, and even teammates. He was publicly called a “ball hog” on numerous occasions, a playing style that was correlated to his “mamba mentality.” In fact, it was Kobe’s ego and alpha dog approach that pushed Shaq out of LA. On one occasion, Kobe called former teammate Smush Parker “the worst” proclaiming that “he shouldn’t be in the NBA.” Kobe wasn’t always warm, friendly, and cuddly like many stars of the past and present, yet he did not care. Kobe was always going to be himself, even if that meant he was going to be hated for it.
When Kobe retired, many, including himself, were unsure of what the future held. Basketball was all he knew, his greatest love, his only passion. However, when his playing career ended, Bryant found a new love in being a father to his four daughters Bianka, Natalia, Gianna, and Capri. Specifically, he shared a very strong bond with his daughter Gianna, who like her father, was a ball player. If Kobe were here today, he would even credit his daughter for helping him learn to love the game of basketball once again.
It is no coincidence that Kobe and Gigi were on their way to the Mamba Sports Academy for a team practice, a team that coached Kobe. When Kobe died, he died doing what he loved most, even more than basketball, being Gigi’s dad.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy is complicated. The truth is, no one was ever quite able to understand or decipher him entirely during his time on Earth. But let’s do him a favor, and stop trying to pick apart or “decipher” who Kobe really was. Rather, can we simply appreciate his greatness and the beauty of his soul? Rest in paradise Kobe Bryant. We love you.