It’s one of those “where were you” moments. For me it was scrolling through my Twitter feed scarcely believing what I was reading; that basketball legend Kobe Bryant had been killed in a helicopter crash in the Los Angeles hills. All I could think – and tweet – was “Kobe… #Wow”.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, it soon emerged that one of the eight other people onboard was his 13-year old daughter Gianna. Apparently on their way to one of her basketball games with others. It’s tragic, and scarcely believable.
Even the most casual follower of the NBA, basketball, and even just sport will know Kobe Bryant. He played for one of sports’ iconic teams – the Los Angeles Lakers – during one of their most successful eras. He took on the mantle of being The Face of the league following the retirement of Michael Jordan, and at a time when the power of the Internet became evident, he was a household name.
No sports organisation leveraged the opportunities like the NBA did. And Bryant was the player they put front and centre.
Five Championships. 18 times an NBA All-Star. Almost countless buzzer-beaters. That 81-point game. The only person to have two jersey numbers (#8 and #24) retired by the same team.
Football might the world’s game, but you’ll get good odds that more people will recognise Bryant than Messi, Ronaldo, or Neymar.
All around the globe there are kids who play basketball because of him. And I personally know three kids and several pets that are named after him.
Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant’s teammate on four of those NBA titles despite their often rocky on and off-court relationship, led the tributes
There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1
— SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
But those weren’t confined to just basketball. Such is Bryant’s stature in modern American – and global – culture current and former players from other sports, music, TV, and movie stars have made theirs, along with both the former and current occupants of the White House.
In San Antonio the Toronto Raptors and hometown Spurs started their game by each taking a 24-second violation to honour Bryant who ended his career wearing that number.
Raptors and Spurs dribble out the 24. pic.twitter.com/Qaz4Q7ux33
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) January 26, 2020
Bryant was in his hometown of Philadelphia over the weekend, in attendance as LeBron James passed him for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. It seems fitting that what turned out to be his final public appearance (and tweet) was to acknowledge the man that he passed the torch onto.
In the coming days there will be further tributes and celebrations and it seems more certain than ever that his statue will be added to the 10 (soon to be 11) others outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles. His legacy as one of the world’s greatest basketballers and someone who transcended sports into popular culture will ensure he’s not forgotten.
But at just 41, that that time is now is nothing short of shocking. And for his wife Vanessa and his three surviving daughters (the youngest of which is just 6 months old) who now face having to farewell a husband and daughter, father and sister, and the families of those others killed it would be barely comprehensible.
Kobe Bean Bryant. 1978-2020
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