You could write an entire book on the tall tales that surrounded Kobe Bryant throughout his career. He’s like Paul Bunyan.
Jay Williams once said that he showed up to a game 4 hours early thinking he was going to be alone in the gym and “getting in more work than anyone”, only to find Kobe already there in a full sweat mid-workout. Shaq says he’d see Kobe doing full-on workouts where he wouldn’t even be using a ball, just him working on cuts where he would sometimes mime dribbling and shooting. Dwyane Wade once told a story where, during Team USA, everyone had just woke up and come down for breakfast, only to have Kobe show up in sweaty workout clothes with ice packs on his knees because he’d already been up for hours getting work in.
Kobe himself once said that a game winner he hit was honed by throwing rocks at a light pole while riding a bike as a kid, that he’d make his high school teammates play him in games of 1-on-1 to 100, and that footage of a cheetah using it’s tail to balance while hunting was his inspiration for how he’d kick-out his leg to keep his balance on his fadeaway.
No story with Kobe seemed too farfetched; no story ever seemed unbelievable.
That changed today when the news story broke that Kobe was involved in a helicopter crash that ended his life, the life of his 13 year old daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers. This story, couldn’t be true, I thought. Or, really, I just hoped it wasn’t. But it is. Kobe Bryant, is dead at 41.
Writing about Kobe has often been as complicated as he could be. A masterful basketball tactician with unrivaled fundamentals, Kobe had a flair for trying insane moves and taking wild shot attempts. A true student of the game who watched more film than anyone, Kobe would go off-script of the game-plan whenever it suited him. A historically great scorer, some of Kobe’s best moments as a player were passes — be it a lob or an over the shoulder no-looker or a simple swing to an open teammate. Off the court, Kobe was a truly devoted father to his four daughters and who has a clear love for his wife, but was also once accused of sexual assault and whose wife once filed for divorce,1Vanessa Bryant and Kobe later reconciled and never did divorce. and who had a very public falling out with his parents.
Covering him, then, whether you were a national scribe who wasn’t around the team as often, a day-to-day beat reporter, or a blogger with a site like this one, was never that straightforward. The complexities of him as a person, teammate, or as an individual player and his approach to the game were always there, bubbling to the surface. To appreciate and adore, to loathe and lash-out against. He was someone you loved or loved to hate, but he was never someone you could be dispassionate about. He was Kobe and you had an opinion about him.
I, personally, loved him. For his dedication and commitment, for his unabashed expressiveness and creativity on the court, for his want and ability to make the right play and for his determination to make the wrong play work, for playing through injury, for the scoring binges, for the highlights, and, as a Lakers fan, for the winning. For all the goddamned winning.
Sports, in its most basic form, is settled on the scoreboard and Kobe Bean Bryant was on the right side of that scoreboard more often than he wasn’t. In the regular season, in the playoffs, in the fucking NBA Finals. Through his play, and his success, he brought me an unfair amount of joy. He brought me memories that will live with me forever…even now that he’s gone.
For that, I am thankful. Truly, and eternally, thankful.
I am also incredibly sad.
Honestly, I have seen too much death lately. Three and a half years ago my father checked into the hospital and never came out. Only a few months later, my only brother was diagnosed with stage-4 cancer and passed away within 18 months. Kobe is not my kin, but he is my family. He’s my Lakers family. He was born in the same year as me and shared a birthday with my brother. I watched his entire career, from those infamous airballs to those made free throws on a ruptured achilles, and lapped it up like a kitten does warm milk.
There will never be another player who captures my attention and appreciation in the same way as him. How our lives overlapped, in the exact moment in time they did, make that so. Today, then, I weep. I weep for Vanessa and their girls. For the rest of his family. For Jeanie and Phil and Rob Pelinka and Shaq and B-Shaw and LO and Pau and Ron and D-Fish. For you. And for myself.
Rest in peace, Bean. Gone too soon, but never forgotten. You made damn sure about that.