Kobe Bryant Left His Mark As a Generational Hero

The Lakers icon played 20 seasons in the NBA and served as a role model to today's generation of players.
By Chris Mannix ,

He had been retired for two years, and yet as Boston battled Cleveland in the 2018 Eastern Conference finals, members of the Celtics' organization were grumbling about Kobe Bryant. Between games 2 and 3, Bryant had released a new episode of Detail, the ESPN+ show he helmed that did deep dives on young NBA stars. The subject was Jayson Tatum, Boston’s rising rookie. Bryant’s breakdown focused on Game 2. Tatum admitted to watching it dozens of times, so many, Celtics coaches noted, that for the remainder of the series he appeared to be incorporating Bryant’s notes into his game.

Kobe, team officials muttered, somewhat tongue in cheek, couldn’t have waited until after the season?

Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday. He was 41. The aircraft went down in a remote field off of Las Virgenes around 10 a.m. Bryant’s daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, was among those who died in the crash.

There are no words for such an unspeakable tragedy.

Not since Roberto Clemente has a sports luminary passed so tragically.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

You mourn Bryant, a father of four. The transition from elite athlete to whatever comes next can be difficult. Bryant made it look easy. He founded Granity Studios, a multimedia company. He won an Oscar. He won an Emmy. He opened a sports academy. Then another. He opened a publishing house. He became the world’s most famous AAU coach.

You are overwhelmed with grief for Gianna, GiGi to Bryant, for a life taken too soon. In interviews, Bryant has said he is often asked about not having a son, a male heir to continue his legacy. When he is, he will point to GiGi, his basketball-obsessed daughter. Recently, a video circulated of Bryant sitting next to GiGi at a Lakers game, just a father and daughter talking shop.

You hurt for his wife, Vanessa, and the three daughters Bryant leaves behind.

These are the people closest to Bryant, yet they represent a fraction of the people he has touched. Bryant leaves behind a complicated legacy, but for young athletes could not have been simpler. A generation lost a hero on Sunday, thousands of basketball players who grew up spinning along baselines and firing up picture-perfect midrange jump shots lost the legend that showed them how. "My generation, it was Dr. J,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “And then maybe Michael Jordan was a little bit after. The generation now is Kobe. He’s exactly what everybody dreamed about playing (against) on the playground."

James Harden used to rush home to watch Bryant’s games. Tatum called Bryant the reason he played. Stephen Curry has sought Bryant’s advice on how to manage injuries. Draymond Green went to him to ask for help keeping his emotions in check. Just last month, Spencer Dinwiddie nearly went bonkers when he saw Bryant sitting courtside in Brooklyn. On Sunday, an emotional Doc Rivers, his voice cracking, noted the hurt in the eyes of his youngest players. Said Rivers, “That just tells you how far his reach was.”

In Los Angeles, the Lakers' plane touched down, news of Bryant’s passing breaking on the six-hour flight from Philadelphia. LeBron James emerged, in tears. He dabbed his eyes with tissue paper. He hugged Kurt Rambis on the tarmac. Not a full day had passed since James jumped Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Bryant’s last tweet was to congratulate James on the accomplishment. In many ways, Bryant was James’s peer. Bryant, James said on Saturday night, “will always be the guy I looked up to when I was in grade school.”

"Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration,” James said. “It was like, ‘wow.’ Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So, just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it's very humbling and it's dope.”

Tributes to Bryant have poured in from everywhere. Barack Obama offered his condolences. Chants of Kobe reverberated at the Pro Bowl. A half a world away, soccer star Neymar flashed a 2-4 after a goal, a nod to Bryant’s jersey number. The NBA elected to play its games Sunday, but each game opened the same. A 24-second violation for one team. An eight-second backcourt violation for the other.

All to honor No. 24.

And No. 8.

The NBA will pay its respects to Bryant at the All-Star game next month, and there is an easy way how. Bryant wore two numbers during his 20-year NBA career. The All-Star game has two teams. LeBron James’s team can wear No. 24. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s can wear No. 8. There will be 24 players in Chicago who grew up worshiping Bryant. A fitting tribute would be to let all of them wear his number. 

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