Remembering Kobe Bryant

Posted 1/28/20

Nine people lost their lives in a horrific helicopter accident outside Los Angeles Sunday, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

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Remembering Kobe Bryant

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Nine people lost their lives in a horrific helicopter accident outside Los Angeles Sunday, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.

While this writing chiefly singles out Bryant, one of nine victims with stories of their own, our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all involved in the wake of the tragedy.

Kobe Bryant, 41, and Gianna were on their way to a travel basketball game with another player and parent aboard the private helicopter, which crashed around 11 a.m. local time in Calabasas, Calif. There were no survivors.

Just 16 hours before the accident, current Laker LeBron James surpassed Bryant for third on the all-time NBA scoring list. James used a gold marker to write “Mamba 4 Life, 8/24” on the shoes he wore Saturday, honoring Bryant’s nickname as well as the two jersey numbers he wore during his 20 seasons in L.A. Bryant tweeted at James congratulating him on the accomplishment Saturday night.

James was seen crying as he exited the team plane Sunday afternoon. The Lakers were informed of the accident while aboard their flight home from Philadelphia.

A 17-year-old Bryant was drafted 13th overall by Charlotte in 1996 and traded to the Lakers later that day. That same year, L.A. would also acquire Shaquille O’Neal from the Orlando Magic, a move that sparked the next great NBA dynasty following the end of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ reign in the late 90s.

Jordan released the following statement Sunday:

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply — and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette (Jordan’s wife) joins me in sending my deepest condolences to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”

The duo of O’Neal and Bryant became one of the deadliest in NBA history and put the Lakers back on the map in the early 2000s. The team won three straight championships from 2000-02, defeating the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets in their consecutive Finals appearances.

O’Neal, who earned the Most Valuable Player Award in all three series, left L.A. to join the Miami Heat in 2004. He had the following to say on Bryant’s passing Sunday:

“There are no words to express the pain I am going through with this tragedy of losing my niece (Gianna) and my brother (Bryant). I love you and you will be missed. My condolences go out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I am sick right now.”

While Bryant continued to dominate and establish himself as one of the game’s greats, the Lakers did not win more than 45 games in any of the three seasons after O’Neal’s departure. It was not until 2008 that Bryant would take L.A. back to the Finals. This time, he was the team’s clear cut and undisputed leader in charge of a supporting cast of Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom.

By 2010, the Lakers were back to basketball royalty status. Despite losing to the Boston Celtics in the 2008 Finals, L.A. held onto the Western Conference crown for three straight seasons. They defeated the Orlando Magic in five games in the 2009 Finals before earning revenge in a seven-game series over Boston in 2010 to claim back-to-back titles.

Bryant was the Most Valuable Player of both the team’s Finals victories, proving to his critics once and for all that he could win without O’Neal.

The 2009-10 season would prove to be the last of his five championships, but Bryant remained a member of the Lakers until his retirement in 2016. He will go down as one of the last all-time greats to spend his entire career with one franchise.

Statistically speaking, Bryant scored 81 points in a single game, was an MVP, 18-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion and 15-time member of the All-NBA team. But his fierce competitiveness and unfaltering drive to be the best is what ultimately set him apart from others on the basketball court.

Many NBA teams across the league paid tribute Sunday by holding the ball for the duration of their opening possessions, resulting in a 24-second shot clock violation (in honor of Bryant’s jersey number).

Countless current NBA stars grew up modeling their games after Bryant’s style and were visibly disturbed as they tried to go about their business on the court Sunday.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced the organization will retire the number 24 in honor of Bryant.

Boston Celtics radio-play-by-play man Sean Grande perhaps summed up the basketball community’s feelings best during the local broadcast of the team’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday:

“As Celtics fans, we didn’t think Kobe Bryant could break our hearts one more time. We were wrong.”

Tuesday’s matchup between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers was postponed out of respect for Bryant.

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