One year ago today, Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers, including his daughter Gianna, were involved in a fatal helicopter crash.
There were no survivors.
It is difficult not to focus on Kobe, but the eight other victims on this helicopter must be mentioned as well. Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and Ara Zobayan all died far too young. May they all rest in peace.
Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of basketball. Dozens of players today grew up idolizing Kobe, and his killer instinct is something that will live on for decades. From his days with Shaquille O’Neal, his 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors, his back-to-back championships in 2009-10, his love for his daughters and their passions, his buzzer beaters, to his 60-point curtain call, you likely remember Kobe Bryant for being a cold-blooded assassin who wanted to dominate his opponents in every aspect of the game.
Kobe Bryant’s work ethic and competitiveness were second to none. Kobe used to play high school teammates 1-on-1 to 100 points after practice to improve his skillset as well as theirs. According to his former teammates, the closest anyone ever got to beating him was a 100-12 drubbing. Kobe Bryant didn’t just want to beat his opponents, he wanted to embarrass them. Just ask Jalen Rose.
Kobe never backed away in the biggest moments at the professional level either. He wanted the ball at the end of the game. He wanted the best defender on the opposing team lining up on him. He wanted to go out and win it for his team. “I don’t give a **** what you say. If I go out there and miss game winners, people say, ‘Kobe choked, or Kobe is seven for whatever in pressure situations.’ Well **** you.”
Kobe’s 81-point performance is something that NBA fans will never forget. OutKick’s Clay Travis said last year, “For Kobe to go for 81, I feel like it’s something we’re going to be talking about for fifty, sixty, eighty years of basketball in the future.” Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point performance will likely never be broken, but Kobe’s 81 points in the defensive-minded mid-2000s is arguably more iconic.
Bryant was once quoted as saying, “I don’t **** with bees, man. Other than that, I’m not afraid of nothing.” He backed this statement up on the court. After tearing his Achilles against the Golden State Warriors, Kobe got up and hit two free throws before walking to the locker room. After a scuffle with Matt Barnes in 2010 which resulted in a double technical foul, Matt Barnes inbounded the ball and proceeded to pass fake in Kobe’s face. Kobe famously did not flinch.
Kobe Bryant also continued to impact the game after he retired. Kobe supported his daughters endlessly and worked tirelessly to help them accomplish their basketball goals. He faced scandals, adversity, criticism and negativity throughout his career, yet he continued to persevere and become a model husband and father.
In December of 2019, Kobe was sitting courtside for a Lakers-Mavericks matchup in primetime. Though he had been retired for several years, Bryant still stole the show with his exchange with emerging superstar Luka Doncic. Doncic was inbounding the ball midway through the second half when he heard someone trash talking him in his native Slovenian language. It was none other than Kobe. Bryant cared about the future of the game, and he loved sharing his knowledge with the next generation of the NBA.
Although it is heartbreaking to think that today is the one year anniversary of this tragic incident, try not to think about it. Instead, think about the moments that made Kobe who he was. Think about his five championships, his two Finals MVPs, his league MVP, his eighteen All-Star appearances, his two scoring titles, his love for his daughters and wife, his commitment to the game of basketball and the future of the NBA, and his fearlessness. Think about his 81-point outburst against the Toronto Raptors or his 60-point curtain call against the Utah Jazz. Think about his Slovenian trash-talking, his unparalleled work ethic, his refusal to flinch in the face of his opposition, and his ability to overcome adversity. Rest in Peace, Kobe Bryant.