Editor's note: The death toll for the helicopter crash is now being reported as nine, according to the LA Times. This was not reflected in our print edition, but our online version is now updated. The Exponent regrets this error.
I was sitting at my desk when I read the news on Twitter. TMZ was the first to break it. Being skeptical of anything that comes from them, I didn’t believe it. More reports came in. I still denied it. No matter how many confirmations I read, I couldn’t make sense of it.
Kobe Bryant, five-time NBA champion, 18-time All-Star, 2008 NBA MVP, 41-year-old husband and father of four, is dead.
To make matters worse, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was another of the nine passengers who died in the helicopter crash.
Growing up a sports fan, I shouted out “Kobe” every time I tossed a piece of garbage into a trash can like so many other kids. I argued relentlessly with friends over where he stood in the all-time greatest list. I watched in awe as he earned his fourth and fifth ring in 2009 and 2010, averaging 30 points a game in both postseason stints.
Kobe changed the game of basketball for good. Wearing No. 24 as a direct distinction of his game from that of Michael Jordan, Kobe ushered in the next era of greats and did so with flying colors. In his rookie season, he became the 1997 Slam Dunk Contest champion. A year later, he was an All-Star. From 2000 to 2002, he teamed up with Lakers legend Shaquille O’Neal to win three consecutive NBA championships in Los Angeles.
Just hours before he died, Bryant was passed on the all-time regular season scoring list by Lebron James, and is now sitting at fourth. Bryant’s final tweet read:
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
A game between the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets was just under way when news of Bryant’s death broke. Bryant, who is a legend in the world of sports, was undoubtedly an inspiration for many players currently in the league. The impact of this loss became obvious when Rockets players were seen on the bench with tears in their eyes.
Bryant was bigger than basketball. That much is obvious. In 2006, Bryant and his wife founded the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. According to the foundation’s website, it is “dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need, both domestically and globally, and encouraging young people to stay active through sports. The Foundation provides financial resources, develops unique programs and raises awareness for relevant issues in order to strengthen communities through educational and cultural enrichment opportunities.”
Bryant also spent his time volunteering with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, NBA Cares and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
I know what it’s like to mourn the loss of a family member. The sudden realization that one day a person that you care so much about is simply gone from your life. There’s nothing you can do about it but hope that it’s all dream that you’ll eventually wake up from. But you never wake up, because you were never asleep.
My uncle has been living with brain cancer for some time now. If it takes him, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know how I would deal with it. I can only imagine how much worse that feeling is when it comes as unexpectedly as this.
Bryant’s wife and daughters have hard days ahead of them.
They have hard years ahead of them. Because the loss of someone you love is never forgotten. The pain never goes away.
In 2018, Bryant earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for “Dear Basketball.” A four-minute eulogy in and of itself, the film was based on a letter Bryant wrote to The Players Tribune in November of 2015, announcing his retirement from the game of basketball.
I have never been one to stan celebrities after their deaths. It feels almost disrespectful to become more infatuated with a person and their work after they are gone. In the recent past, I’ve seen people become self-proclaimed loyal fans of late rappers Juice WRLD and Mac Miller only after their untimely deaths, claiming they were fans from the start when it’s clear they weren’t.
So in light of that, I feel obligated to admit that my first viewing of “Dear Basketball” came after I heard the news of Bryant’s passing. After watching, I can only assume that the feelings the following quote evoked in 2017 pale in comparison to what it’s doing to people now:
“And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.”
Kobe Bryant gave the game of basketball everything he had, and so much more. The effects of his death will be felt by the world of sports forever. But the truth is, we weren’t ready to let you go. Nobody was, and nobody is. But life doesn’t care about what we are ready for. So thank you Kobe, for being you. We will never forget you.