By: Cullen McIntyre, Sports Editor
Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Maria-Onore Bryant along with seven other passengers died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The crash occurred around 10:00 am on Sunday, January 26. Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa along with his three daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri.
Bryant, 41, was flying to a travel basketball game at the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, California. The crash came only the morning after fellow superstar LeBron James passed Bryant for third place in the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) all-time scoring list. Bryant’s final tweet celebrated his friend’s accomplishment as James hit the mark against the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Philadelphia native was a star the moment he came into the NBA right out of high school. He was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996, instantly being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers where he spent the entirety of his career. By his second season, he would earn the first of his 18 all-star selections, and in his fourth, he would be joined by Shaquille O’Neil to win three straight NBA Championships.
The 18-time all-star, five-time NBA Champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 11-time All-NBA First Team, 9-time All-NBA Defensive First Team had many memorable moments in his career. From 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 to nailing two free-throws after tearing his achilles to carrying the Lakers to a game seven NBA Finals victory over the Boston Celtics in 2010. But one of the most iconic moments of his career was the 60-point performance the Mamba put in on his final game before retirement in 2016.
Bryant’s “mamba mentality” is something that will never be forgotten in the world of sports. His constant drive to push himself and constantly work to be the best he could possibly be was unmatched by any athlete of his time. He embraced the mantle of the villain persona, as he put victory above all else. His persistence on the court left a legacy of dedication and success, as Bryant is expected to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on the first ballot this summer.
He leaves behind much more than a memorable career on the court, as Bryant led the way for the current generation of athletes not only in the NBA but across the world. He often worked with up-and-coming players in the offseason, such as Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum who idolized Bryant. His presence in the basketball world never faded, from breaking down players on ESPN’s Detail to appearing frequently at Lakers games with his daughter.
The outpour of emotion shown all over the world was immense, from former teammate O’Neil sharing his emotions on Twitter:
There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
To the two 24-second violations taken at the beginning of the game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors in honor of Bryant’s jersey number 24:
— John Elizondo (@johndelizondo) January 26, 2020
To Brazilian soccer player Neymar holding up a two and a four with his hands after scoring a goal for his team Paris Saint Germain in a match Sunday:
Neymar throws up the 24 for Kobe 💜 pic.twitter.com/mPUveZpNA2
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) January 26, 2020
He was unstoppable in being the best at everything he set his mind to, with an Oscar and a best-selling novel added to his long list of basketball accomplishments. But his greatest accomplishment of all was being a father to his four daughters. He was often found working on basketball with Gigi, who he proudly knew was heading to the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) in her future.
When speaking about his daughters in an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, Bryant showed exactly why, “The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans will come to me and she’ll (Gigi) be standing next to me and they’ll be like ‘You gotta have a boy, you and V gotta have a boy to carry on your legacy’ and she’s like ‘I got this, don’t need no boy for that, I got this’ and yes you do, you got this.”
The 41-year-old had become a spokesman in the fight for equality in women’s sports, often showering support on women athletes from the WNBA to the United States Women’s National Team in soccer.
His death impacted the basketball world heavily on Sunday. Shooting Guard Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks was found in tears before his game Sunday. Point Guard Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets was mentored by Bryant and was reported leaving the stadium before his game the moment the news broke. Footage of the first game played Sunday afternoon showed players on the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets emotional as they discovered the tragic news.
The loss of the smooth, trash talking shooting guard is a loss much bigger than sports. The tragedy is of a family and a man whose love for the game left behind a legacy that will never be forgotten. As a basketball fan growing up in the 2000s, I got to witness the greatness that Bryant embodied throughout my childhood. His passion and love for the game are what inspire many basketball fans today. The loss of a basketball legend is tragic, but one taken this early is truly heartbreaking.
My fondest memory of Bryant was watching his final game in 2016 against the Utah Jazz. It was like the basketball world paused its emotions and feelings towards anything to honor and celebrate one of the greatest to step onto the court. The game was sold out and watched by every basketball fan out there, a Kobe fan or not.
As he always thrived in the moment, he lived up to the Black Mamba nickname in his final game, nailing shot after shot to accumulate 60-points in his final game. The emotion that ran through not only the Staples Center but the world of sports watching Bryant come alive for his final game on the court was like no other, it was a perfect ending to a story that shaped basketball for generations to come.
From a 19-year-old basketball fan who lived in the Kobe era, thank you for your dedication to the game. Thank you for bringing back the Celtics-Lakers rivalry that made me and many fans fall in love with the game of basketball. Thank you for the impact you’ve left on the future of basketball.
The loss of Kobe is the biggest loss in the sports world of our generation. Head Coach of the Los Angeles Clippers put it best in an emotional pre-game interview Sunday, “We laughed and joked about the mamba mentality, we are all gonna need it right now. We’re all Lakers today.”
Bryant will continue to be honored by those in sports and across the world for the impact he left on the world. From all of the basketball fans in my generation, we will not forget the smooth, trash talking point guard who wanted nothing but domination on the court and the father that became of him once he retired. Number 24 will be remembered for the greatness it stands for in a man whose grind never ended.
Rest in Peace Kobe and Gigi Bryant,