In the world of sports, the mere mention of a first name translating to instant recognition as to who one is referring to happens only to a very elite few. In basketball, Magic, Bird, Julius, Shaq, and LeBron are among the few who are still among us, enjoying that distinction (LeBron is the only active player in that list). Kobe Bryant certainly enjoyed that status as well, and it is a tragedy that at the age of 41, Kobe is no longer with us.
Congratulating LeBron on Saturday night for passing him on the all-time scoring list, and then perishing alongside his daughter Gianna Maria-Onore (13, and a basketball player herself with the nickname Baby Mamba) a few hours later is so ironic, and left the sports world in deep shock. All around the globe, tributes and expressions of sympathy were being made—in the Aussie Open of tennis, Nick Kyrgios came out for his match with Rafa wearing a Kobe jersey. Kobe is survived by wife Vanessa and three other daughters (Natalia Diamante, Bianka Bella, and Capri Kobe), the youngest just born in June of 2019.
Hailing from Philly, Kobe was drafted to the NBA (National Basketball Association) at 18, retiring 20 years later as one of the most prolific scorers the game has ever seen. LeBron passed him just a few days ago, taking 2,000 less shots to reach that point total. Five NBA titles, two Finals MVP, a ridiculous 18 All-Star appearances, two Gold medals for Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics—these are just some of the records Kobe took with him when he retired in 2016.
And of course, there are the highlights we’ll always remember: the 81-point game in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors, and closing his career with a 60-point performance in a home game, with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg watching in sheer astonishment. Everyone in the arena was just there to say goodbye to a player who had become emblematic of the franchise for twenty years, and instead, we’re treated to an individual performance that made a mockery of his 38 years of age, and the dismal season the Lakers had suffered through. Those are two games that stand as defining moments of Kobe’s illustrious career.
Two different jersey numbers were retired by the Lakers—the first time this has happened. He’s a shoo-in as a Basketball Hall of Famer. And there’s the distinction of his Academy Award-winning short film Dear Basketball. While these are just some of the high marks of the Kobe we'll always remember, the public record does also show that there are more complicating aspects to the life Kobe led in the glare of the spotlight.
Cursed with a polarizing personality, there are also the much publicized clashes with teammates. Most prominent among these would be that with Shaq, as Laker fans still wax rhapsodic about the many more titles that could have been had the rift not caused Shaq to leave the team. There’s also his run-ins with then coach Phil Jackson. Kobe led the league in attempts six times—with a lowly 28 per cent clip for three point shots in his last season. Never shy to heave the ball at the basket, Kobe was confidence personified, even when he’d been having an off night.
And of course, there’s the 2003 sexual assault case of a teenage hotel employee, which Kobe claimed was consensual. The girl refused to testify, and while Kobe admitted to the adultery, he denied the assault allegations. The case was eventually settled in a civil lawsuit. Wife Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011, but withdrew it two years later. Some may question why these are being mentioned at all; but being such a public figure, it would be more glaring to omit them when speaking of the legacy Kobe leaves behind.
If anything, from the point Kobe retired it would seem that he devoted himself to being an ardent family man, and a lot have been written about the very special bond he had with Gianna, his second child. He supported Gianna and her love for basketball; of late, Kobe had been making a lot of comments about Women’s Basketball which the WNBA was extremely grateful for.
Kobe is one of a handful of players instrumental in raising basketball’s global profile. And if anything, this will be the most lasting thing he leaves behind. His appearances in China and in other cities around the world are stuff still written about with passion and incredulity—his popularity in China even eclipsing how he’s received in the USA. For so many sports fans who grew to love basketball over the last 24 years, it was the presence of Kobe that helped cement that love for the game. He will be missed.