NBA Great Kobe Bryant 1978-2020
By Willie Dee Ellison II
Kobe Bryant, former NBA icon and Los Angeles Laker great was the most polarizing figure in Los Angeles sports for the past 20 years. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Italy, Kobe became LA’s adopted son in 1996 when then Los Angeles Laker General Manager Jerry West made the trade for the 17-year-old superstar coming straight out of high school. He spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers and grew up right before our eyes.
On Sunday morning, January 26, Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (Gigi) Bryant and seven others including the pilot perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas. Kobe was 41. The others in the fatal crash include: John Altobelli (56), baseball coach at Orange Coast College; his wife Keri Altobelli and daughter Allyssa Altobelli; Sarah Chester, and daughter Payton Chester (13); Mamba Academy assistant coach Christina Mauser and the pilot Ara Zobayan. The group was traveling to Thousand Oaks to attend the Mamba Cup Tournament and the Mamba Sports Academy. The crash is still under investigation.
Fan reaction to the tragic news quickly spread around the world, sucking the oxygen out of any conversation. The first thought for everyone was disbelief, then sadness. Many saying it feels as if they lost a family member.
Kobe Bryant’s status loomed large. In a city of stars, he was possibly the brightest star. If not in Hollywood most certainly in sports entertainment. Hollywood’s reaction to the sudden tragic loss was special. During the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards some of music brightest stars showed love to Kobe and his family inside the Staple Center: The House That Kobe Built. Grammy Award winning singer Lizzo opened the show declaring “TONIGHT IS FOR KOBE!!!” The NBA legend was saluted by Alicia Keys and Philly’s own born and bred R&B group Boyz II Men with a heartfelt rendition of the award-winning song “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye.” Others that paid tribute to Kobe included ArrowSmith and RUN DMC, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, singer Billie Eilish. Kobe was also included in the tribute dedicated to the late rapper Nipsey Hussle. During the Grammy Awards Ceremony the spotlight stayed on Kobe’s two retired jersey’s No. 8 and No. 24 all night.
Perhaps hit the hardest by the tragic news were his fellow peers and former teammates. It was somber day in the NBA, but games were played nonetheless, just as Kobe would have wanted. Blown away by the sudden news, one could see fans in areas across the country crying as they watched their home teams play. The teams gave moving, honorable and classy tributes. During the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs game each team opened the game with a 24 second shot clock violation in honor of Kobe’s jersey No. 24. During the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets games both teams did the same as Rockets’ guard Russell Westbrook tried to fight back tears. Before the Los Angeles Clippers and Orlando Magic game, the Magic displayed a moving tribute on the jumbotron before each team took an 8 second back court violation in honor of Kobe’s No. 8 jersey. The Madison Square Garden was dressed in purple and gold lights in honor of Kobe and they displayed his No. 8 and No. 24 jersey on the court. Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young honored Kobe by wearing his No. 8 jersey, he took 24 shots and shot 81% from the free throw line. All numbers representing Kobe.
Arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, definitely the greatest player of his generation, Kobe’s determination, competitiveness and will to win was unmatched. That was the “Mamba Mentality.”
Noticeably moved by the tragic news of Kobe’s sudden death was current NBA and Laker great LeBron James. He was seen on the tarmac exiting the team plane wiping his eyes. The Lakers were returning home from a five-game road trip. They were returning from Philadelphia where LeBron had just passed Kobe for the No.3 spot on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Kobe’s very last tweet was to LeBron congratulating him on passing him on the list. During LeBron’s post-game interview, when asked about passing Kobe on the scoring list, it seemed like LeBron eulogized Kobe by the way he spoke of him and the impact Kobe had on him as a young teen.
Kobe’s career stats and many of his accomplishments in the NBA are unparalleled. He gave so many great memories. He was a five time NBA Champion, two time NBA Finals MVP, he won one League MVP, he scored 81 points in a game, second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100, he won two Gold Medals with team USA, he holds the scoring title in 4 NBA areas around the Nation. He also has an Oscar for his animated short story “Dear Basketball.” He is the only player in sports history to have two jerseys retired No. 8 and No, 24. His game was so unmatched his name was also a verb. Fans came up with the term he “KOBEIED HIM!!!”
Kobe gave us many memories. However, perhaps his most memorable moment was a true display of his grit and toughness. Kobe tore his Achilles during a game against the Golden State Warriors. Kobe’s first response to the injury was to attempt to pull the Achilles down and put it back in place. He then got up hobbled to the free throw line, knocked down two free throws, then walked back to the locker room unassisted. That’s the Mamba Mentality.
In February, during the All-Star festivities Kobe was officially going to be listed on a ballot to be inducted in the NBA Hall of Fame. Without question he is a first ballot Hall of Famer, but no one thought Kobe Bryant would be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame posthumously. Kobe has left the Staple Center, he was one of the bright stars in a city of stars. Despite his untimely departure, that star is still shining. He was a legend, and legends never die.
Kobe Bean Bryant will be missed.