Kobe Bryant's Death Affects Us All
The world just lost a great one.
Some people loved him, some hated him, but everyone respected him.
Kobe Bryant approached life with unparalleled passion. He poured himself into everything he did with such intensity, with such wholeheartedness, that it inspired something in all of us. He was superhuman, yet we all felt as though we knew him.
That's why it just didn't make sense when news broke Sunday morning that Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas along with seven other people.
The first reports seemed fake. While confirming the news, reporters had to write "this is not a hoax" and "this is not a joke." No one wanted to believe it. It was dizzying.
Then reality started to sink in.
People gathered around L.A. Live crying and chanting Kobe's and Gianna's names. Athletes, actors and U.S. presidents tweeted heartfelt messages.
Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving was so overcome with grief that he decided not to play, reportedly leaving Madison Square Garden after learning of Bryant's death. Multiple NBA teams took 24-second shot-clock violations to honor Bryant, who wore a No. 24 jersey for part of his career.
Bryant excited people in a way few can.
He was a five-time NBA champion, the MVP of the league in 2008, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, an 18-time All-Star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist. He had career averages of 25 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists, spending each of his 20 seasons with the Lakers.
He had so many moments of greatness throughout his career.
There was the time he famously made two free throws after sustaining a torn Achilles' tendon in a game against Golden State in 2013. Or the time he scored at least 50 points in four consecutive games in 2007. Or the time he scored 62 points in three quarters in a game against Dallas in 2005. Or the time he had a career-high 81 points against Toronto in 2006.
But Bryant was so much more than those numbers.
He represented a mindset, an attitude, a confidence. He was the walking embodiment of the phrase 'practice what you preach.'
He had no tolerance for excuses because he never used them. He didn't respect laziness because he spent hours in dark gyms before practices having marathon shooting sessions to perfect whatever slight imperfection he zeroed in on.
We all want to be like that. We all want to be great at whatever we do. But very few of us have the discipline or courage to make it happen.
After LeBron James passed Bryant for third on the all-time scorers list in a game against Philadelphia on Saturday, James waxed poetic about Bryant for four uninterrupted minutes, talking about how much he inspired him as a child. On Sunday, a video showed James crying after he got off the Lakers' team plane.
Shaquille O'Neal, who won three NBA championships alongside Bryant from 2000-2002, tweeted Sunday, "Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me'Arah."
Bryant's daughter, Gianna, shared his passion for the sport. Bryant proudly posted videos of her playing basketball on Instagram, and he recently took her to a Lakers game. The helicopter crashed as they were headed to the Mamba Sports Academy, where he was going to coach her in a game.
It was through Gianna that Bryant relived his love and passion for the game after retiring in 2016.
Bryant was smart and his interests were varied. He was born in Philadelphia, but spent part of his childhood in Italy, becoming fluent in Italian. He liked to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on the piano.
Instead of experiencing depression or a loss of identity after he retired, Bryant reinvented himself as a storyteller.
He made a short film, "Dear Basketball," based on a poem he wrote when he retired. He went on to win an Oscar, Sports Emmy and Annie Award for it.
He also founded Granity Studios, an award-winning multimedia company that tells stories around sports, and created "The Wizenard Series" in collaboration with author Wesley King, a New York Times Bestseller about five young basketball players and the power of the game.
He was just 41. He had so much more to give the world. It was just too soon.
Everyone felt the loss, including this reporter. Like many people from Los Angeles, I grew up watching Lakers games with my father. We cherished that time together. It brought us even closer.
I eventually helped cover Bryant and the Lakers as a fledgling reporter for the Los Angeles Times, and was struck by another side of him: his playfulness.
When I asked him what was his most embarrassing moment during a game, he didn't hesitate in his response. "I went to dunk the ball and my shorts fell down," Bryant said with a laugh, adding that he now ties his drawstrings in a knot before each game.
He was also willing to answer questions about which animals his then-teammates embodied the most, calling Metta World Peace a guerrilla, Derek Fisher a bulldog and Lamar Odom a candy cane.
This much is for sure: Bryant was undeniably and unequivocally himself.
He was willing to let his guard down. He didn't filter his words. He'd take risks. He was controversial, touching, harsh, articulate, funny and fascinating.
He made a deep impression on all of us.
We all tried to channel him when we had a challenge. We all tried to imitate him when we had a goal. He's the ultimate competitor, the paragon of hard work and perseverance.
Bryant was a great one.
Nearly twelve hours have passed since his death, and we're all still spinning.
This was too soon. Too unexpected. Too sad.
This loss was just too great.