BREAKING NEWS: Kobe Bryant dies in a helicopter crash in Calabasas along with others. Reports are also telling us that in the plane with him were his daughter Gianna, her teammate, and a parent among a possible nine passengers on the manifest.
I was sitting in my recliner relaxing when my wife looked at me and said some site was reporting that Kobe Bryant had died. We looked at each other and immediately said that it was a shame that someone would print fake news like that just to get website hits. My wife used that moment to check Twitter, our immediate source of news. There it was, again and again. Confirmation from major news outlets and some of the biggest names in the world were telling us that this horrific news was, in fact, true.
All I could do was stare into space and ask God to please give us a sign this was not true. We turned the TV to CNN and there it was. A report about a helicopter crash and soon after, Christine Brennan confirming the bad news. At the age of just 41, former NBA legend, Kobe Bean Bryant was gone, just like that. A reminder to all of us that tomorrow is promised to nobody. Initial reports also told us that his wife, Vanessa was not on board. The Sikorsky S-76B chopper was the chopper Bryant used to get around.
Bryant, the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant, is known to most as one of the greatest NBA players we have ever seen. He came straight out of Lower Merion high school and went right to work in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In high school, he became the first freshman to start for the varsity team in decades. In his junior year, he would average 31 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists while being named Pennsylvania Player of the Year. He would get looks from MANY colleges and liked Duke, North Carolina, and Villanova. But he was torn between going to college or turning pro right out of high school. Some believe his decision was made for him when he saw Kevin Garnett go in the first round of the 1995 NBA Draft. In his senior year, he would bring the Aces their first state championship in more than 50 years and he would also surpass the likes of Wilt Chamberlain and Lionel Simmons in the Pennsylvania record books.
In 1996, the Lakers were looking to make some moves to free up salary cap space in order to sign another soon to be great, Shaquille O’Neal. In Charlotte, the Hornets agreed to trade the #13 pick to the Lakers in exchange for Vlade Divac. It did not happen without a little drama as Divac had threatened to retire instead of being traded out of LA. He would finally give in and the Hornets picked Kobe, per an agreement with LA, with the 13th pick of the 1996 NBA Draft. Bryant was just 17 at the time and would need to adjust to life as an NBA player.
In the 1998-99 season, the Lakers would trade Nick Van Excel and Eddie Jones paving the way for Bryant to make his mark. This would also be the year he signed his six-year, $70 million extension.
The next year Phil Jackson would bring the triangle offense and with Bryant up top and Shaq down low, a dynasty was about to be born. The Lakers would go on to win the 2000, 2001 and 2002 NBA titles with one of the most dominant duos the league had ever seen. But the duo and the Lakers would hit a wall the next few years and fall in the playoffs.
Rudy Tomjanovich took over and Shaq was traded to the Miami Heat. At the same time, Bryant would re-sign with the Lakers for another seven years. The reports of a feud between Bryant and O’Neal were also now front and center and that would linger for years to come. Unfortunately, the Lakers did not have enough of a supporting cast for Bryant and they did not make the playoffs for the first time in more than 10 years. Phil Jackson would also return to coach the team with Kobe’s blessings.
In the 2007-08 season, the Lakers would go 57-25 and the team would ride Kobe all the way to the NBA Finals and a date with their old rivals, the Boston Celtics. Unfortunately, the Celtics were a team of destiny and they would beat the Lakers in six games.
This would light a fire inside of the Black Mamba and the only thing that mattered now was winning another title. The next year LA would finish with the best record in the West at 65-17 and go the Finals to face the Orlando Magic. When it was all said and done, Kobe was a champion again as well as Finals MVP in a five-game series.
He would reach the mountain top one more time the following year when the Lakers, making their third straight Finals appearance, would capture the NBA title. The series would end in Game 7 with Kobe leading the way with the Lakers down 13 in the third quarter. He would score 10 of his 23 points in the fourth and with that, Kobe was a five-time NBA Champion. He would never get that elusive sixth title but finished his career as the third-leading scorer in league history. Ironically, he was just passed up by Lebron James the other day for that spot.
At the end of his career, he was criticized for signing a two-year contract for $48.5 million. Many would say that since he was a star he should have taken less money. Others, including myself, said if there was anyone that deserved to be paid, it was Kobe. Let him take his money and finish his career with dignity.
In the final game of his career, he scored 60 points in one of the most emotional games one could see. One of the greatest to ever play the game would have a finish you could only dream of.
After his career was over, Bryant got involved in many projects. He had “Detail” on ESPN as well as his The Punies podcast. He coached his daughter, Gianna’s AAU basketball team. There was so much he wanted to do and we all assumed he had so much time to accomplish anything he wanted to.
But on Sunday, January 26, 2020, all of that came to an abrupt end. The Black Mamba was no more, gone from all of us in an instant.
I have said to many people that I have been blessed to have lived in a time that allowed me to see some of the greatest players sports has ever known. One of those was Kobe Bean Bryant and I will never forget the excitement I felt every time I watched him play.
R.I.P. Kobe…..we will never forget you.