On Sunday afternoon, multiple outlets confirmed the passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant as first reported by TMZ. There has been a lot of confusion surrounding who had accompanied Bryant on the fatal helicopter ride. The latest update comes from the LA County Sheriff who has stated that there were 9 passengers on the helicopter, not 5 as initially reported. Bryant’s 13-year old daughter Gianna is believed to have been one of those passengers.
Bryant’s death is one of the greatest tragedies to ever befall the basketball world. Fans and players have been left devastated, as both groups mourn the loss of one of the all-time greats of the sport. Those who followed Bryant will remember him not only as one of the best players in the history of the game, but perhaps the most popular and polarizing player of the 21st century. Bryant also served as a mentor to many young players who came to him over the years to improve their games.
Here are just a few of the many woeful reactions from players across the NBA to Bryant’s passing:
Some other moving reactions to Bryant’s tragic passing came from Doc Rivers, Brian Shaw (a former teammate and coach of Bryant’s) and Stephen A. Smith:
It is believed that the NBA offices gave some thought to cancelling today’s games in light of these horrific events, but with the news of Bryant’s passing only surfacing roughly an hour before the first game was set to begin (meaning many fans were likely already in the arena) and most of the rest of the games set to start around 6pm ET, the league likely determined it was too late to call off any of the games.
The Rockets and Nuggets held a moment of silence for Bryant prior to the game, while the Spurs and Raptors honored Bryant after the tip-off of their game with a moving tribute: allowing the 24-second shot clock to expire in honor of number 24, Kobe Bryant. The Celtics and Pelicans followed suit, as did many teams across the NBA.
Bryant was the very definition of a basketball savant. There is perhaps no one in the history of the planet who loved basketball as much as he did. Their are countless anecdotes of Bryant’s dedication to the game, insane work ethic and inhuman practice habits. One of the best tales of Bryant’s innate desire to work harder than everyone else comes from Jay Williams who told the story of a pregame workout he had before a game against Bryant’s Lakers:
Bryant had a number of spectacular moments that he will be remembered for. His many game-winners, his championship runs, his 81-point game, his 60-point retirement game, the time he hit two free throws on a torn Achilles, all of which will be played on a loop for weeks and months and years to come. I could go on forever about the endless list of memorable moments Kobe Bryant had during his 20-year career, but two stand out that are perhaps more trivial than all the rest.
One of my personal favorite Kobe Bryant highlights came on an ordinary Friday night in January. The game came almost exactly 13 months after Chris Paul was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers, a trade that happened just days after a deal sending him to the Lakers fell through. With “Lob City” in peak form and the Lakers struggling to make the Steve Nash-Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard super team work, fans started to question whether the Clippers had taken the reigns from the Lakers as the best team in Los Angeles. A 34-year old Kobe Bryant was on a mission to make sure that everyone knew the Lakers dominance over the Clippers would be maintained.
This shot from Bryant is one I will always remember. It’s such a small one in the grand scheme of his legendary career, but it’s one that illustrates the kind of player Bryant was so well. It encapsulates Bryant’s playground-like, bucket-getting, one-on-one play style to a tee.
The confidence and swagger it takes to be chewing on your own jersey in the middle of a very meaningful NBA game that is coming down to the wire was baffling. It was a moment I will never forget. I didn’t recall this fact before just now looking it up, but the Lakers lost that night. The Clippers went on to win that game 107-102. Bryant played nearly 44 minutes and scored 38 points. It’s one of those games where the final result wasn’t as important and what would be remembered from that game was Bryant’s unwavering confidence in himself and undying competitive spirit. As his career was beginning to come to an end, he still gave everything he had to try to carry an inferior team to victory. Playing all but 261 seconds of game time.
One of my other favorite moments from Kobe Bryant came in the form of a commercial that summarized the experience of watching him play for so many fans. As Bryant prepared to retire, this commercial ran on a number a different stations.
ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne said Sunday on SportsCenter amid her appearance discussing Bryant’s life, “Kobe always said ‘I wrote all my own commercials.'” Bryant wrote this one not for his beloved fans in Los Angeles, but for those who rooted against him for so many years. Bryant loved the hate. He fed off of it. He wanted those fans to know that their jeers and their boos were appreciated and invited. It was one of the things that made Kobe Bryant who he was. He wanted to make sure to pay homage to those fans that despisied, but begrudgingly respected him.
Bryant was not only a great basketball player, but revered for his many talents off the court. Bryant won an Oscar in 2018 for his work on his animated short film “Dear Basketball” and was known as a great father to his four children. The game will suffer greatly with Bryant gone. New generations of players will be robbed of the chance to learn from one of the game’s greatest players. Kobe Bryant gave his life to the game of basketball and for that, we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
Thank you, Kobe Bryant. The NBA world, and the world at large, will never be the same without you.
Photo: (Winslow Townson – AP Photo)