Is Aiding A Weakness Worth Sacrificing A Strength?

On Sunday, the world lost Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash – and everybody, basketball and beyond, began to mourn. Bryant, 41, and his win-at-all-costs mindset changed the course of professional basketball through his five championships, one MVP and over 20 incredible seasons.

In a year, Bryant will undoubtedly become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, forever enshrined in Springfield, MA. But until then, and as we all to struggle to find words for an imperfect man and athlete, everyone has considered their relationship to Bryant over the last few days.

His lasting legacy is complicated, but the impact Bryant had on the game – and the current generation of players and fans – is unquestionable.

Below, the Basketball Insiders team shares their thoughts and feelings on the loss of Kobe Bryant.

***

Growing up, Kobe Bryant was everywhere – even in my tiny corner of the country. And way up in Portland, Maine, one of my closest classmates throughout grade school idolized Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. As his team grew stronger at every turn, Dillon had plenty of ready-made ammunition to toss in the faces of his friends – who were New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves supporters, sadly. But that only served as motivation to give it back to him all the same, often teasing with mawkishly-yelled Kobe! calls when our buddy missed an easy bucket or dunked on the Nerf hoop in his purple and yellow-painted bedroom.

Bryant seemed to infiltrate every moment of my young basketball fandom – and not only because I lived deep in Celtics territory.

But beyond that, and despite his objectionable off-the-court issues that linger after all these years, losing Bryant is another sad reminder to love people while you still can.

Not later, not in a few months, not even the next time you make it home – but right now. Make that call, send that text, keep trying to mend once-burned bridges. Build from the bottom-up and be better than you were before. Say I miss you and I love you and talk to you soon as much as possible because tragedies never seem to make an appointment. As you undoubtedly know already, it is never the right time to say goodbye to somebody important – whether that’s an old pal or a former superstar – but Kobe’s sudden departure should come as a warning to everyone.

Hardly anything in this life is permanent but the memories of the ones you love come pretty darn close.

I haven’t stayed in touch with Dillon as much as I would’ve liked since we graduated from high school almost a decade ago – but I think I owe it to myself to try again.

– Ben Nadeau

***

I’ll never forget how hard I was kicking myself. As I sat there a few cars behind waiting to get into the parking garage, Kobe Bryant’s pregame presser began before his final game in Cleveland as his retirement tour rolled along. I failed to realize how packed Quicken Loans Arena would be at that time to send No. 24 off.

Maybe I should’ve expected it. After all, if I had an emotional connection to this larger-than-life being that kept my eyes on the television, so did others just like me. It’s funny: Kobe was a major favorite of mine growing up, but Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen were my Nos. 1 and 2. That’s no disrespect to the Los Angeles Laker legend, of course, but rather me straying away from the mainstream. In fact, I hardly even used Kobe in video games because I wanted to beat him, whether it was against the computer or a friend.

Looking back at memories, there’s too many to name. Obviously, the Kobe-Shaq dynamic and their unique relationship was always an interest of mine. I actually like to make a game out of naming the teammates he had over his years. The more obscure, the better — Smush Parker, Slava Medvedenko, Andrew Bynum, Shannon Brown, Metta World Peace — or those times in which he played with Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Regardless of who he played alongside and how good of a team the Lakers had, there’s one fluid motion that will always make me think of Kobe.

Backdown on the baseline. Shoulder fake towards the basket. Spin back towards the baseline. Right leg kicks out. Turnaround fadeaway from 15 feet. Bucket. 

The basketball world is shell-shocked. I’ll admit I still have no idea how to process this. At 27 years old, I barely remember seeing Michael Jordan growing up. But I watched Kobe Bryant. And I often did it with my eyes wide open and jaw dropped to my chest. This was “the guy.” For me, for so many of us ’90s kids.

That’s why my heart hurts. I’m sick about him. I’m sick about his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. I’m sick about Gianna’s teammates — Alyssa Altobelli and her parents, John and Karen; Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah. I’m sick about Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It just doesn’t make sense…

I wasn’t able to speak with Kobe at his farewell performance in Northeast Ohio, but I do remember watching him dazzle as he tried to lead one of his infamous comebacks against LeBron James’ eventual championship-winning team. Feb. 6, 2016 ended with him greeting friends and fans in the player garage before he left. Knowing I hadn’t documented any type of memory from the occasion, I snapped a quick photo walking out as best as I could get.

It’s blurry. It’s grainy. It’s low resolution. And I’ll cherish it forever.

Spencer Davies

***

Days later, and I remain in disbelief. Kobe Bryant, dead at 41, is not something I ever thought I would have to type. On that tragic Sunday morning, the NBA lost a legend, one woven into the fabric of the Association as much as he was Los Angeles, the city that took him in as an 18-year-old and made him their own.

But, more importantly, the world lost a loving father and a man whose passion for and exuberance in life permeated everything he did and extended to everyone he met.

Of course, my connection to Bryant isn’t exactly unique. I grew up in Massachusetts, a fan of the Boston Celtics – and, for the better part of my life, it was my business to hate him more than anything else. Of course, I respected him; it was hard not to, given his ability and approach to the game. But, in hindsight, he played a far greater role than I ever gave him credit for in the development of my own love for the game.

Yes, Bryant was the enemy. Yet, he embodied everything there is to love about competition and the game of basketball; an insatiable hunger and uncompromising drive to win at the highest level; a zeal for the game unequaled, neither then nor today; the desire to break down his opponent and bend the game to his will. Kobe was the ultimate competitor and made the game that much more enjoyable.

My appreciation for Bryant only grew in his post-NBA career. A man that was once so isolated and cold warmed to the world and tried to further the game in any way he could. Bryant not only served as a friend and mentor to a number of current players, but was a major advocate for the WNBA as well.

It would be disingenuous of me were I not to address the more unsavory aspects of Bryant’s life. To some, the Colorado-based case that culminated in Bryant’s admission of having non-consensual sex with a young woman was just a bump in Bryant’s road to superstardom. To others, it tarnished his character and still does to this day. Either way, it’s made his lasting legacy a complicated one to address.

That said, Bryant’s growth as a person beyond that incident was evident. And, while it may be difficult to parse through, Bryant can and should be celebrated for the good that he did as long as we can acknowledge the bad that preceded it.

Bryant certainly had an impact on me, both in sport and in life. And, for that, I’ll be forever thankful.

– Shane Rhodes

***

Each morning since the accident, I have woken up hoping it was all a nightmare that has finally ended. Each morning, I have woken up saddened to realize again that it was not. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up with Kobe Bryant as the premiere sports icon in Southern California. Kobe was one of my favorite athletes and I, like many kids, tried to emulate parts of his game when I was young and played on youth basketball teams. As I grew older, I became more critical of issues like his inability to maintain his shaky relationship with Shaquille O’Neal and other, more serious matters, such as his well-documented off-court legal issues.

But I always appreciated Kobe’s drive and unshakable belief in his own abilities. He wasn’t as lethal of a shooter as Ray Allen or as physically gifted as LeBron James but he turned all of his weaknesses into strengths and worked relentlessly to become the most complete player he could be. I have tried to apply that same approach in all aspects of my life, though I have fallen well short of that goal more times than I care to admit. But most importantly, since his retirement, I came to respect the well-rounded family man that Kobe became. He was always with his family, supporting them in their own endeavors. Kobe seemed to be more balanced, at peace and happier than ever. His death, and that of his daughter, Gianna, is a tragedy that has impacted me more than I would have imagined.

I’m saddened that this nightmare won’t end, that we won’t get to see Gianna go to UConn and eventually take over the WNBA with Kobe supporting her every step of the way.

– Jesse Blancarte

***

Kobe Bryant was the first player I can remember watching when I was younger. He was my generation’s Michael Jordan, of course. I certainly wasn’t a Lakers fan growing up, but I loved watching Bryant compete. As fun as he was to see on the court, the biggest impression Kobe ever left on me was this quote he said after he retired:

“Fast-forward 20 years from now,” Bryant said. “If basketball is the best thing I’ve done in my life, then I’ve failed.”

Basketball was his life. He was a five-time champion, an MVP and an 18-time All-Star. And yet he truly believed he could still achieve more. It’s an absolute tragedy we won’t get to witness what those 20 years would have held.

But if Kobe taught us anything, it’s that hard work and determination – not circumstance – truly define who one can become.

– Jordan Hicks

***

As a writer, I covered Kobe Bryant constantly while toggling the focus on his flaws. There’s no excusing or sugarcoating the incident that culminated in him admitting to having non-consensual sex with a 19-year-old. His maniacal competitiveness and unrelenting zeal for the spotlight made him a less effective player and teammate than his rings, medals, trophies, game-winners and place in the game’s all-time hierarchy suggest.

But on Sunday, I suddenly remembered how much I used to revere him. How Bryant was once my favorite player growing up or how without him I wouldn’t love basketball quite as I do. Then I almost started crying, and have tried to watch every game since with the same sense of joy I felt as a kid.

– Jack Winter

***

I never had the privilege of meeting Kobe. I don’t have a unique perspective or a memorable story to tell. I grew up thousands of miles from Los Angeles and never had a desire to visit the city. That is why the last 48 hours have been so bizarre to me. The emotional devastation felt throughout the day and the sleepless nights have had such an impact on me in a way that I would never have imagined.

Growing up during the Michael Jordan era, I viewed Kobe as an imposter. But this was a guy that would just rip your heart out, play after play, after play, after play. Still, his second act after retirement as a father figure and a creative mastermind has always struck me. His passion for life and the inspiration that he offered so many people is something that we will all miss dearly. The stories have been heartwarming, while the sadness has been felt across the globe. We should all aspire to attack each day as Kobe Bryant would because we’ve seen the much-needed positivity and success that it can bring.

– Chad Smith

***

I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t the biggest Kobe Bryant fan growing up. Michael Jordan was my childhood hero. Worse, Kobe always came across as an imitation. To me, he was never as good and it always irked me how his fans tried to put him on the same pedestal as Jordan. My mindset began to change in recent years, however.

Most people remember their first love and, well, my first love was basketball. It’s the one love that’s never left me, never abandoned me, never walked out on me. It’s always been there for me. I cried when I first read Kobe’s poem, “Dear Basketball.” That was me.

Everything he wrote, all the emotion he put into that poem, that was me. Basketball was Kobe’s love. He ate, slept and breathed the game. How could I not appreciate someone who had a love that burned brighter for the sport than mine did? How could I not respect someone whose passion and dedication for the game was so strong? I was rooting hard for him to win an Oscar for that piece. When he did, I wanted to cry, shout and smile all at once. That poem has become the epitome of a love letter to me.

I penned an actual love letter not too long after his Oscar win. I tried to channel the same energy and emotion that Kobe used. When you love something/someone, the words just flow from the heart. They did for me, as I imagine they once did for Kobe too. I finished it, but I never delivered it as things went south before I had the opportunity.

By now, the age-old cliche of time-is-short has been beaten to death –but there is some truth in that. As I was listening to Shaquille O’Neal and watching him tear up, his words kept echoing in my mind. It had been a while since he’d last spoken with Kobe and he wished he had the opportunity to say something to him one more time.

And as I sit here and finish these words, I think of my undelivered letter, my version of “Dear Basketball.” I owe it to myself, to Shaq and to Kobe to make that attempt to see it delivered. While Kobe certainly loved basketball, his love for his family and the people who meant something to him was even greater. Years from now, I don’t want to be sitting here wishing that I should’ve reached out. I don’t want to be kicking myself for not even attempting to re-light the red flame. And so, I’ll channel my inner Mamba and try to win my own Oscar.

Kobe and Gigi, the basketball world will miss you and we’ll keep you in our hearts forever.

-David Yapkowitz

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