On Sunday morning, Lakers legend Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. He was 41.
For Cornellians, Kobe’s death is the most tragic sports death of our young lives — in my mind, it’s perhaps the most rattling for Americans since that of Pirates outfielder Roberto Clemente in 1972.
Kobe is survived by three daughters and his wife, Vanessa. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was on board the helicopter with him when it went down, along with one of her own basketball teammates and the teammate’s parent. There were no survivors in the crash and a reported nine casualties.
The future NBA Hall of Famer played all 20 seasons of his career with the Lakers and was named an All Star in 18 of those years. After being the first high school guard to join the NBA in 1996, he played off the bench for the first two years of his tenure with a team whose roster also included Shaquille O’Neal. In his third year in the league, Kobe broke out and never looked back.
Kobe Bryant’s impact on the game of basketball is immeasurable. In truth, I feel there is little I can add to Kobe’s canon. I have no new takes on his legacy, nor can I offer any analysis that has not been said already. But at times such as these, I think it is enough to simply remember.
Growing up in Boston, “Beat L.A.” chants were ubiquitous throughout my developmental years. The only NBA championship my hometown Celtics have won in my lifetime was in 2008 against the Lakers; the last time they appeared in the finals was in 2010, when they lost in Game 7 to the Lakers. Kobe was crowned the MVP of that series.
The basketball giant retired in 2016, having played 1,346 games throughout his iconic career. Just hours before Bryant’s death, LeBron James surpassed Kobe to take sole possession of third place on the all-time points list.
Anti-Lakers sentiment is not unique to Bostonians — they’re essentially the Yankees of the basketball world. But Kobe was a player more similar to a Derek Jeter-type than an A-Rod; as one of the greatest to ever play the game, he commanded respect.
Even so, Bryant’s career was not entirely without controversy. In 2003, he was arrested on sexual assault charges in Colorado. In his documentary, Muse, Bryant revealed that he created his alter-ego, The Black Mamba, to separate his personal life from his playing career at the time.
Kobe’s impact extends beyond his self-named shoe line with Nike and even beyond his elite level of play. His philanthropic work largely focused on serving inner-city youth and community building. The Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation “is dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need, both domestically and globally,” according to the foundation’s website. He had also opened the Mamba Sports Academy in Los Angeles last year, where he was reportedly heading at the time of the fatal accident.
His death is mourned the world over and touches the lives of people far removed from sports. In Bryant’s own words: “Mamba out.”