“How do you feel about Kobe?”
I’ve probably been asked this question about a million times since last Sunday, when Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a tragic helicopter crash. I usually respond with something nonchalant, but there’s only a couple ways to feel about what happened. Extremely shocked. The type of shocked that has you thinking about how this could happen every time you have a moment to. And devastated.
Kobe Bryant is dead at 41 and every time I see the “In remembrance of” and the “(1978-2020)” on television segments it triggers another wave of disbelief. Is this really happening? How could this happen?
Kobe was probably the toughest player I’ve ever seen in my time watching basketball. He played through various injuries throughout his 20-year career including a torn labrum, dislocated fingers and a torn achilles. When he tore his labrum he chose to play left-handed rather than sit the game out, and we all remember the iconic free throws he knocked down after tearing his achilles. The toughness he showcased on the court makes this horrific accident all the more surreal. Kobe doesn’t die. He would jump out of the helicopter before dying, like the superhero he was on the court. It still doesn’t make sense, even a week later.
And yet, perhaps the most universally heartbreaking aspect of this tragedy was that his daughter, Gianna, was also in the helicopter. We’d gotten to know Gianna more and more through viral videos and gifs on social media. Her and Kobe started attending games in person this season, and we all had front row seats to their father-daughter relationship. It was beautiful to see how inseparable the two appeared to be. Gianna was an aspiring WNBA player who dreamed of attending the University of Connecticut, and Kobe had been coaching her to make sure those dreams came true. But now, this dream has viciously been torn away from all of us, and we will never get to see her live up to the hype and carry on her father’s legacy.
If anything, this tragedy made us realize how fragile, how precious life is. If Kobe could be taken this soon, anyone can. And the only way one can really prepare for that is to let the people you care about know how you feel, because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.
I didn’t know Kobe personally, nor did I ever have the opportunity to meet him, but I felt a strong connection to him. I started watching basketball in the 2008-09 season, right when the Lakers were starting to become championship contenders. At the time, we didn’t have cable, so there weren’t a ton of entertainment options but one of them was watching the Lakers’ away games, which my brother and I took advantage of. For eight years we watched Kobe turn-around fadeaway his way into an MVP, two rings and an epic 60-point final game.
Despite watching him on the TV screen so often, I only got to watch Kobe play live once. When he announced his retirement, my brother and I knew we had to go see him at least once. We got our chance on March 30, 2016. I’ve seen a bunch of great NBA players play live: LeBron, Carmelo, Steph, Wade, Chris Paul, Derrick Rose. Yet, there was something indescribably different about watching Kobe. Even in warmups he just stood out. He moved differently than everyone else on the court. He only played nine minutes that night and went one-for-seven, but I’m glad I was able to watch the greatest Laker of all-time live.
What Kobe will be most remembered for is his “mamba mentality.” His work ethic and competitive nature is something that truly transcends sports. His 5 a.m. workouts and relentless drive to become one of the greatest to ever play the game has become legendary. He continued to carry that same drive once he retired and got into the media creation industry; he even won an Oscar! The idea of working on your craft harder than everyone else and clawing to the top of your respective field is something that transcends sports and resonates with people outside of the sports realm. We’ve seen that over the past week as murals of Kobe and Gianna have popped up all over Los Angeles and the world.
Another reason I feel connected to Kobe is a date. We were both born on August 23, albeit, 20 years apart. I’ve told so many people that I was born on the same day as him — it’s been a badge of pride for me. I’ve told myself his will had somehow been reborn into me. I wish we could’ve shared many more birthdays.
Thank you, Kobe.