There was a special broadcast of a Saturday night NBA game January 25 featuring the Los Angeles Lakers in Philadelphia against the 76ers. Lebron James, who joined the Lakers this season, was expected to pass the recently retired Lakers and NBA legend, Kobe Bryant for third place on the NBA all-time scoring list.
Kobe was a Philadelphia product, good enough to skip college a go right into the NBA in the late 1990’s. Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers. He won five NBA championships, an MVP Award, and two Olympic gold medals before retiring in 2016.
The 37-year old James, has always respected Kobe’s talent and drive. That was part of the reason why James decided to become a Laker for the last few years of his NBA career.
James did pass Kobe that night, and Kobe was very gracious with his congratulations in a social media post moments after.
Twelve hours later he was dead. Kobe and his 13 year-old daughter, Gianna, were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash northwest of Los Angeles at about 10am Pacific time.
It says a lot about a recently retired American athlete whose death can make headlines in Argentina, Serbia, Russia, Italy, Spain, and China. It says even more that it can knock the impeachment story off the front burner and be the dominant topic at Super Bowl media night on Monday of Super Bowl week. By Tuesday, Nike had sold out of ALL Kobe branded products available online.
Having been a Golden State Warriors fan since I could hold a basketball, I never cared for the Lakers or really followed any of their players.
However, from the days of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, and Wilt Chamberlin to those of Magic, James Worthy, Shaq, and Kobe, they were GOOD. Kobe was among the best of them, highly motivated by wanting perfection all the time. He coined the term, “Mamba Mentality.” He defined it as a constant quest to be the best version of one’s self.
Kobe wasn’t always an angel. However, by all accounts he had turned his life around and was a staunchly devoted family man to his wife and four daughters. He was excelling at least as much after his basketball career as he was during it.
Kobe and Gianna, who played like a smaller Kobe, were also spearheading what would have been a monumental growth trend for women’s basketball. There was no ceiling to what they may have accomplished in that area.
Kobe also won the 2018 Academy Award in the animated short category for “Dear Basketball.” The film is based on a letter he wrote in 2015 announcing his retirement from basketball. Bryant wrote, executive produced, and lent his voice to the film.
So much about Kobe’s life in retirement transcended the sport. There were no cultural, political, ethnic, racial, religious, philosophical, or gender boundries. The tributes we have seen worldwide in art alone far surpass what we even saw for Muhammad Ali.
It was this era’s “Elvis is dead moment” with social media, a 48-hour period the likes of which we will never witness again.
Millions of us who didn’t know him were touched by the outpouring of support, the raw emotion of friends, associates, and former coworkers, the moments of silence at sporting events worldwide, tributes during games, and so on. The pain and tears weren’t just a phenomenon in Los Angeles
It was also encouraging to hear that on that hectic Sunday morning before flying out early to get his daughter to a travel basketball game, Kobe and Gianna made the time to attend a 7am church service.
For is wife, three surviving daughters, and the others who knew him well, it’s time to move forward. They can now reflect fondly on the words uttered to Kobe by Gianna when he was contemplating shelving that award-winning film early on.
“Well, dad, you always tell us to go after our dreams, so man up.”