Shock. Devastation. Heartbreaking.
These words accurately describe the events of January 26, 2020 in Calabasas, California. What should have been a nondescript Sunday morning turned tragically for the worst, as a helicopter crash in the California mountains claimed the lives of nine people. Two of those people were retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13 year old daughter, Gianna.
Bryant established himself as one of the preeminent players in NBA history. He was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th pick of the 1996 NBA draft at just eighteen years of age. Bryant’s draft rights were traded later that night to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac. At the time, it seemed crazy that then Lakers’ general manager Jerry West would make such a deal. West was a Laker legend in his own right in the 1960s and 1970s (his silhouette currently serves as the NBA’s logo). That fact alone should qualify West to place such value in Bryant’s potential.
West’s faith in Bryant was manifested tenfold. Using sheer will and determination, Bryant compiled a career so stellar that people referred to him by his first name. Kobe was named 1996-1997 Rookie of the Year. He was also an 18 time All Star selection, 15 time All Pro selection, selected to the NBA All Defensive Team 12 times, two time scoring champion, two time league Most Valuable Player, five time NBA champion, as well as a two time NBA Finals MVP.
Kobe was a scoring machine, evidenced by his 81 point outburst against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. It was the second highest point total for a single player in NBA history. He also capped off the 2015-2016 season by scoring 61 points against the Phoenix Suns. If was after that game that Kobe decided to retire after a fabulous 20 year career.
As impressive as Kobe’s on court accomplishments were, his impact off the court has been equally impressive. He learned to speak three languages (English, Italian, and Spanish). He was a coach on Gianna’s basketball team. In addition, Kobe won an Academy Award in 2018 for his animated short film “Dear Basketball”.
Kobe will be eligible for induction into the NBA Hall of Fame this year. Sadly, he will be inducted posthumously, unable to actually enjoy this once in a lifetime moment on this earth. In any event, Kobe Bean Bryant’s legacy of NBA greatness will always be fondly remembered by his peers and fans for years to come.