Kobe Bryant: Remembering an NBA Icon
By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports columnist
Has it really been a year?
A year gone since you received the phone call or the text or heard it on the radio or saw the television program you were watching interrupted by a devastating jolt of breaking news?
A year since Kobe Bryant’s death overtook everything for a while, so encompassing that it seemed there could be no bigger or more dramatic story in 2020, not just in sports but anywhere?
We didn’t know then what we know now, but we knew this. The world was ready to mourn, individually, collectively and without reservation, for an athlete who knew no other way than to give his all, whether in pursuit of championship trophies, business opportunities or quality time with his children.
"[I love] how we connect to the athlete through our storytelling," Bryant told me in 2018. "A great story touches those emotional components."
Bryant had a career matched by only a few, but more than anything, he had a story that reads like a gripping script, and it did play with our emotions, all of them, all the way through.
He came into the NBA while still a kid, arrogant and sometimes selfish in his initial years on the Los Angeles Lakers. There was the tumultuous soap opera with Shaquille O’Neal and the unstoppable drive that led to five championships and a night that can be described only by a number (81). He learned to be a better teammate. There was the troubled mystery of the events in Eagle County, Colorado. The later advocacy for women’s rights and women’s sports. And the Mamba mentality that powered his closing legacy.
Bryant’s life wasn’t a Disney fairytale. It was a compelling narrative, the kind he loved, full of layers and obstacles, tackled and overcome. It was a life lived at 100 percent, even in retirement, when he’d be up at 4 a.m. hitting the treadmill before creating stories, formulating concepts and watching his daughter’s games.
When the helicopter carrying Bryant, his 13-year-old, Gianna, and seven others crashed into the hills of Calabasas, California, Bryant was crushing it in business, which he said he didn’t find all that complicated, and he often said he counted the extra time with wife Vanessa and their four daughters as a genuine blessing after all those years on the road.
Soon after the accident, I wrote that no life is more important than another, yet naturally, some resonate with us more. Yet there has been so much death since, so many faces gone.
Simply and heartbreakingly, loss of life doesn’t impact us in the same way anymore. It hurts, it aches, but it doesn’t shock or surprise, no longer. We’ve become weathered, not expectant but prepared for the worst.
And so, perhaps, the kind of outpouring that greeted Bryant’s death might not happen again, not like that: a moment frozen in time, just like him, at age 41 and with so much still to do.
This year will bring a Super Bowl like no other, but last year’s was that, too. For the tragedy involving a basketball legend somehow overshadowed in part even the biggest game from another sport and the grandest occasion in American entertainment.
From a media night that was relatively sparse, with so many of the credentialed press still working the aftermath of Bryant’s death, to the game itself, when more than a dozen players from the Chiefs and 49ers wore Kobe-themed cleats, and both squads got together before the game at the respective 24-yard lines in his honor.
Everyone has their story of Kobe, and there are endless numbers of them. As a writer, I am grateful to have been able to tell some, a full gamut, from a return to his high school, to the bond he forged with the family of a young man who lost his life to cancer, to a look into his creative business mind as he cofounded athletic personal care brand Art of Sport.
Even an article I recently wrote on the sale of Bryant’s childhood home earlier this year, complete with some stunning memorabilia, generated far more emails than usual.
It’s Jan. 26, so yes, it really has been a year. There are so many ways to remember Bryant, yet as with anyone who has gone, you tend to look at the goodbye and the way they said it.
When Bryant left basketball, on that wild night in 2016 when he dropped 60 on the Utah Jazz and closed out 20 years of effort, he walked off with a verbal mic drop ... "Mamba Out." He later said what he was trying to do that night was leave everyone a mini-blueprint for the Mamba mentality, the theme of resilience, effort and refusal to be defeated that he lived by.
After the year that has been, we could all use a bit of that.