The NBA community lost one of its most iconic figures in January of 2020, when Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash just outside Los Angeles. Making things a bit worse was the fact that all nine passengers on the flight, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, perished in the tragic accident. To many, they were gone far too soon.
In this piece, we'll discuss the events that led to the crash, as well as the emotional shockwave it sent through the sporting world thereafter.
Being a father is a special gift, and Kobe enjoyed every second he had with his four daughters. He and his wife, Vanessa, were active in all of the activities that their kids became involved with, which included Gianna's push towards a career in basketball.
After his retirement from the NBA in 2016, Bryant made a pointed effort to spend more time with his family. The 20-year NBA veteran went on to serve as a coach for Gigi's youth team. This may seem like a trivial task to some, but Kobe took this job seriously.
“Coaching youth sports is so important to take very seriously because you're helping the emotional (development) of young kids,” Kobe Bryant explained before his passing, via popculture.com. “So it's understanding not to be overcritical and understanding that (there) are going to be mistakes.”
A Final Kobe Bryant Salute
In what became his last post on Twitter, Kobe congratulated Lakers superstar LeBron James for passing his mark for 3rd on NBA's all-time scoring list. It's worth noting that James was once an adversary. However, The King became a member of the Laker family after joining the team in July of 2018.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
LeBron James gets to the bucket to move up to 3rd on the all-time scoring list! pic.twitter.com/almofNRKrg
— NBA (@NBA) January 26, 2020
Just days after claiming his fourth NBA championship (and 17th for the Lakers) by defeating the Miami Heat in 4-2 Finals fashion, James offered a heartfelt tribute to Bryant:
— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) October 15, 2020
The Last Ride
For years, Kobe flew around the Los Angeles area in his personal helicopter, which was a Sikorsky S-76B model. Be it to a game at the STAPLES Center, a public event, or later, to his daughter's practice, he and his family often took to the skies for commuting.
Sadly, January 26, 2020, would be the last flight for Kobe and Gianna, as well as the other passengers who lost their lives in the foggy hills outside Los Angeles. At 41 and 13 years of age, neither survived the accident.
Initially, it seemed surreal to hear that Bryant had passed away in such a manner. As a five-time champion and 18-time All-Star, he seemed invincible. There was simply no way he was gone — not like this. Yet, he was.
For kids in the post-Michael Jordan era of basketball, Kobe Bryant was the best player they had ever seen. In fact, some claim that Bean was a mirror of His Airness. And in fact, they did share similar moves on the court, such as a turnaround fader and the famous tongue wag. Heck, Kobe even sounded like Michael when he spoke.
Kobe Bryant admittedly loved Jordan, and he emulated him in many ways. Legendary Bulls head coach Phil Jackson once commented on these two great players:
“There was something coachable about Michael that Kobe didn’t have,” Jackson said in 2018. “But Kobe had an irrepressible fire.”
As you might expect, the NBA community immediately entered a phase of mourning after learning of Bryant's death. Within hours of the news going public, devout Lakers fans crowded the streets and plazas out the STAPLES Center to take part in what became a days-long vigil for their beloved hero.
Though they often bump and grind on the court, many players view the NBA as a brotherhood. This bond became crystal clear after Bryant's passing, as hoopers from all eras chimed in on social media to pay their respects.
this can’t be trueee!!🙏🙏🙏
— Luka Doncic (@luka7doncic) January 26, 2020
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) January 26, 2020
This shit can’t be real
— Evan Turner (@thekidet) January 26, 2020
— Manu Ginobili (@manuginobili) January 26, 2020
Nooooooooooo God please No!
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) January 26, 2020
NBA players weren't the only athletes who felt the sting of Kobe's passing. Many NFL players offered their respects, including Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, who is now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Man not Kobe… Prayers to his family and friends! #RIPMamba
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) January 26, 2020
We miss you already Kobe ❤️❤️🙏🏼🙏🏼
— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) January 26, 2020
Remembering Kobe Bryant
On the court, Kobe was a fierce competitor. Few (if any) could match his offensive prowess. If he wanted to go by you, he would. If he wanted to dunk on you in his younger days, he probably could. However, Bryant meant more to the NBA than mere statistics and highlight clips. Through his global efforts, the league grew in popularity in countries where it may not have previously. All of a sudden, nations like China and The Philippines were diving deeper into their love of the game.
Street artists around the globe paid their respects to Bryant in the best way they knew how, many choosing to create elaborate murals in his honor. In Taguig, south of Manila, The Philippines, a beautiful work of Kobe embracing Gianna was laid on the canvas of the famed Tenement basketball court.
In Los Angeles, street artists Gustavo Zermeño Jr and flaxworx added Bryant and the 17th trophy to their mural after the Lakers won the 2020 NBA title:
Kobe and the 17 🏆 have been added to the Lakers ‘Leave A Legacy’ mural
📍5522 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles
🎨 gz.jr and flaxworx pic.twitter.com/V9PgghHqaL
— Kobe & Gianna Bryant Murals (@kobemurals) October 13, 2020
Kobe left a lasting legacy, winning five championships with the Lakers and earning 11 All-NBA First Team nods along the way. To many, he'll be remembered as one of the greatest basketball players in history. In fact, most experts already had him firmly etched into their Mount Rushmore of greats.
Kobe was taken far too soon, to be sure. Even now, it's tough to face the reality. Still, the memories he left behind, as well as his Mamba Mentality, will live on.