For the longest time, Kobe Bryant was the Tupac of basketball. They did everything to the fullest. There was never any BS. You either loved or hated them but they definitely made you feel, and feel deeply. And they never, ever, got outworked. Both constantly plied their crafts, be it in the studio, or on the basketball court. Tragically, they now share untimely and tragic deaths between them.
Kobe Bryant, the player, was unreal. You’ve heard about his exploits as you’ve watched the coverage in the last few days. As an Angeleno, you lived with them for two decades. He was our superhero. You didn’t need to be reminded how unbelievable Kobe was. However, the reason Kobe’s death is being felt so strongly is not because of what Kobe accomplished on the court but the style with which he played and how he lived his life.
Kobe marked the end of an era. He was a killer on the court. He was like Magic, Larry, and Michael before him. There was none of this “buddy buddy” stuff for these guys in their primes like you see with today’s players. Kobe wanted to win, not be your friend. He was willing to do whatever it took. More than that, Kobe was what you taught your kids to be like . . . Never get outworked . . . Always be the most prepared. . . There’s nothing worse than wasted talent . . . And let’s not forget loyalty. He stayed with the Lakers for two decades.
But Kobe’s legacy is a complicated one. He was on trial for sexual assault after all. Kobe famously flew from trial in Colorado to L.A. to play in the playoffs on the same day. We also remember though that he threw Shaq under the bus with the police in the process, further feeding into the Team Kobe vs. Team Shaq dynamic. After all was said and done, the charges were dropped as the woman who brought the charges refused to testify in the criminal proceeding. The civil suit was settled out of court. Lakers fans forgave. But we’ll never really know what happened in that Colorado hotel room.
Kobe will be remembered and celebrated though, as we have already seen. The thing is, plenty of talented people have come and gone. However, it takes something more for every television channel to turn away from regular programming and take you live to coverage of a tragedy like the networks did on Sunday. No, Kobe was not just about talent. He was what happens when you mix immense talent with an insatiable thirst for victory, an unmatched will, and intellect that made him wise beyond his years. That’s why we miss Kobe. That’s why the world stopped upon news of his passing.
Kobe’s lasting legacy can feel like it’s been written because he lived a full “sports life.” His career lasted far longer than most and he accomplished so much in those 20 years in a Lakers jersey. But Kobe’s legacy is indeed lacking. Not because he failed, no. His legacy is lacking because his off the court exploits were just beginning to take fold. Kobe, the Oscar winner. Kobe, the venture capitalist. Kobe, the mentor. Kobe, the . . .
That dot dot dot is a large part of what makes this so painful. Given the start to Kobe’s post-basketball career, it does not feel like hyperbole to say that he was off to the start of the greatest post-retirement career in sports history. Sure, plenty of athletes have been successful. Derek Jeter, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan own sports franchises. Jerry West and Joe Dumars have won titles as executives. And the list of athletes in media is too long to list. But Kobe was accomplishing something in a far different world. He was entering endeavors foreign to athletes and using that Mamba Mentality to make his mark.
Or . . . what if Kobe, the father, was what really drove him? What if Kobe became so engrossed in the lives of his daughters that he made strides for women the likes of which we have never seen? What if Kobe really got into coaching? What if Kobe and Gigi became the first father-daughter duo to win a WNBA title as a coach and a player for the same team? . . .
It’s fitting and all the more tragic that Kobe was killed en route to his daughter Gigi’s basketball practice. Kobe was a dedicated father. One story that got me: James Worthy recounted that Kobe recently called him looking for drills that UNC ran for guards back when Worthy was on the team. In the 1980s. James Worthy laughed at the thought. But that was Kobe. Always looking to be better, only this time, for his daughter. . . RIP Gigi.
It’s impossible to recount Kobe’s greatness and drive in writing. You had to have experienced it. Maybe that’s why this all feels so unreal and this eulogy feels so disjointed, like pieces of a puzzle that haven’t been completed. Kobe’s death is the sports version of JFK. You’ll never forget where you were when you heard the awful news. Just remember to hold your loved ones tightly because, as we’re so sadly reminded again, tomorrow is promised to none of us. After all, Kobe lived every day that way. RIP Mamba.