Kobe Bryant Is Still Making an Impact
The world stopped that day. When Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, on Jan. 26, 2020, it created one of those terrible "Where Were You?" moments for people around the globe after a huge loss.
It was tough to process. In some ways, it still doesn’t feel real. And it might never feel real. But the outpouring of love in Los Angeles and around the world helped people deal with the reality that Kobe died with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in an unthinkable tragedy.
What would Kobe do after a big loss? Keep going. That’s all anyone can do with a loss. And that’s what Kobe Bryant fans have been doing since his death. And why he's still making an impact.
Remember the Names of All Nine Lives Lost
Alongside Bryant, eight others died in the crash:
His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
Baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri Altobelli and their daughter, 14-year-old Alyssa Altobelli.
Girls basketball coach Christina Mauser.
Sarah Chester and her daughter, 13-year-old Payton Chester.
And pilot Ara Zobayan.
The group was traveling from Los Angeles to Bryant's Mamba Basketball Academy for a game.
Kobe Was Much Bigger Than Basketball
It's hard to explain the seismic shock that came with the news of Bryant's death at 41 years old.
To put it in context, U.S. President Donald Trump, former U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and numerous other politicians sent out messages of condolences.
His Loss Released an Instant Outpouring of Grief and an Amazing Show of Love
It wasn't just politicians who expressed their grief after the death of Bryant and eight others.
Within hours of the news, fans began to flock to the Staples Center in Los Angeles and began creating memorials for those who'd been lost that day.
With the Grammys about to take place that night there, it created a mix of sadness and togetherness for a grieving city and a grieving community of fans worldwide.
Tragedy Set the Stage for a Moving Tribute at the Grammys in the 'House That Kobe Bryant Built'
The Grammy Awards in Los Angeles that night did not try to temper down the tragedy or find a way around it. From the start of the show, the sadness in the Staples Center was palpable. Luckily, there was a host in singer Alicia Keys who knew the gravity of the situation and confronted it head-on.
"We're all feeling crazy sadness right now because earlier today Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero," Keys said in her opening monologue. "And we're literally standing here, heartbroken, in the house that Kobe Bryant built."
Bryant Influenced the Next Generation of NBA Talent
The images and videos of NBA players being informed of Kobe Bryant's death in real time are seared into our collective sports memories. We saw a generation of the world's best basketball players learn they'd lost their hero.
Bryant had mentored many of them or reached out to them in some form or another as their careers had started. That mentorship was something he'd sorely been lacking at times early in his career.
Giving back was something Kobe had started doing more as his basketball playing days ended, and he continued that mission in his post-playing days as he started the next chapter in his life.
It Takes a Lot to Move Shaq and Michael Jordan, But Kobe Did
The basketball world turned to the two icons most largely associated with Bryant — former NBA superstar Michael Jordan and former Lakers teammate Shaquille O'Neal.
Bryant was compared to Jordan throughout his career and won three consecutive NBA championships with Shaq in the early 2000s.
Their grief seemed to reflect what the world was feeling.
'No Words to Describe the Pain'
Both Jordan and O'Neal issued statements following Bryant's death that didn't mince words on what they were feeling.
O'Neal said he was "sick" and "had no words to express the pain." He also made a gut-wrenching appearance on TNT. Jordan, who rarely puts out public statements, gave us some insight into their relationship.
"Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling," Jordan said. "I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me."
The Night Before the Crash
The night before the crash, Bryant's name was popping up in the news as Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James passed him for No. 3 on the NBA's career scoring list in a road game in Bryant's hometown against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Bryant tweeted his congratulations to James following the game.
"Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames . Much respect my brother #33644," wrote Kobe.
How Did the Lakers Find Out?
According to James, he and Bryant spoke on the phone the morning after the game in Philadelphia before he and the Lakers boarded a flight from Philadelphia to Los Angeles.
This would have been just hours before the crash. Mid-flight, the Lakers began to get news of Bryant's death, with many refusing to believe it was true.
A Prayer for Those They Lost
Los Angeles Lakers center Anthony Davis made a quick decision as news spread throughout the airplane of Bryant's death to wake up James, who initially refused to accept the news.
Once reality set in, James said he gathered the team for a prayer. "It was just off the top of my head, off the cuff," he said. "It was something we needed."
Trying to Make Sense of What Happened
As the world came to grips with Bryant's death, the media tried to decipher what led to the crash that killed nine people. And it led to errors.
ABC correspondent Matt Gutman inaccurately reported live on air that all four of Bryant's daughters were on the helicopter with him and was subsequently suspended.
Other reports falsely reported former Lakers teammate Rick Fox was also on the flight. This also turned out to be false.
Getting to the Truth
Wading through the deluge of information coming out the day of the crash, some pictures of what happened began to come through.
What we know now is that Bryant's helicopter left Los Angeles and flew over the city for several minutes before entering a fog-filled canyon with little visibility and being unable to climb over a mountain pass.
The Mentor and The Black Mamba
No one played a bigger role in Bryant's NBA career trajectory than the man who brought him to Los Angeles — Hall of Famer Jerry West, the Lakers' general manager and person who orchestrated the draft-day trade to bring him to Los Angeles.
Over the years, West described his relationship with Bryant as feeling like a "surrogate father" and was the person who nicknamed him "Black Mamba."
"It's the saddest day of my life," West said upon learning of Bryant's death.
Tiger Woods and Kobe Were Friends for Decades
Golfer Tiger Woods was a longtime friend of Kobe's. The two started their careers as professional athletes at almost the exact same time.
Woods was coming off the 18th green at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego when his caddie, Joe LaCava, informed him of the news.
His initial shock was caught on tape, and he gave a short statement to ESPN just minutes later.
At the Pro Bowl, Football Takes a Backseat
News of Bryant's death broke just before kickoff at the NFL Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida, where ESPN smartly turned the focus from the game to the tragic news unfolding that day.
The stadium announced the news before the game started and held a moment of silence.
The network turned its attention from the game to coverage of the news and focused player interviews on Bryant and his impact on professional sports.
NBA Teams Honor Kobe at Tip-Offs
As games carried on the night of the crash around the NBA, teams found a way to honor Bryant right away.
Each team committed a shot clock violation to start the game — 24 seconds on the NBA shot clock matched up with the No. 24 Kobe wore for the second half of his career.
The World Learns About Being a #GirlDad
One of the most poignant tributes to Bryant came the day after the crash, when ESPN anchor Elle Duncan told a story of meeting up with Bryant and asking him about being a father to girls.
Duncan, who was pregnant at the time, conveyed the sheer joy Bryant had in being a father to four girls and how much he loved being a "Girl Dad."
Shortly after that, #GirlDad became a trending topic on social media worldwide.
Honored in his Hometown of Philadelphia
While memorials to Bryant filled the area around the Staples Center in Los Angeles, the grief also spread to his hometown of Philadelphia.
At Lower Merion High School in the suburbs, where Bryant paid to have the gymnasium renovated, a memorial also sprung up paying tribute to the local legend.
Tributes Around the World
On Feb. 2, the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, lit up with pictures of Bryant and his daughter, Gianna.
In the world of tennis, there was an outpouring of grief that began to show Bryant's deep connections to the sport.
Novak Djokovic said Bryant helped him get through a difficult injury, and stars from Rafael Nadal to Martina Navratilova shared their condolences.
Staggering Show of Support at Staples Center
One week after Bryant's death, Staples Center employees started the work of cleaning up the makeshift memorials around the arena.
It was an arduous task as the Staples Center, at the request of the Bryant family, promised to catalog, pack up and deliver all non-perishable items to the Bryants.
The numbers were staggering — 1,350 basketballs, 25,000 candles, 5,000 signs and letters, 500 stuffed animals, 350 pairs of shoes and 14 banners.
Kobe Made an Impact Beyond the Game
Following his retirement in 2016, Kobe Bryant wasted no time carving out a role for himself outside of the game of basketball even though his ties to the game could never be unmuted.
Most notably, Kobe became an Oscar winner with his animated short film "Dear Basketball" in which he teamed up with legendary composer John Williams.
Williams accepted an honorary Emmy for Kobe later that year, and the Oscars put Kobe in their "In Memoriam" segment in 2020.
Lakers Postpone Their Game Against the Clippers
The Lakers were supposed to play the Los Angeles Clippers just two days after the crash on Jan. 28, but the NBA made the decision to postpone the game — the first postponement of an NBA game for an off-court reason since the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013.
The Lakers returned to the court on Jan. 30 against the Portland Trail Blazers, with LeBron James giving a heartfelt speech to the crowd before the game.
It was the second-most-viewed NBA game in ESPN history with 4.4 million people tuning in to watch.
Where Were You When You Heard?
For basketball fans, Bryant represented the sport as much as any player who ever played the game.
The news of his death and the shock that came with it created a "Where Were You?" moment that none of us will ever forget.
One year later, tributes poured in across the world for Bryant and the eight others who died in the crash.
Farewell to a Legend
On Feb. 24, the Staples Center hosted a public memorial for Kobe Bryant.
Late night talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel hosted the event, while pop superstar Beyonce performed one of Bryant's favorite songs, "XO", and NBA and WNBA legends spoke, including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Diana Taurasi. The Bryant family attended the memorial and his widow, Vanessa Bryant, also spoke.
"I couldn't see him as a celebrity, nor just an incredible basketball player," she said. "He was my sweet husband and the beautiful father of our children … he was my everything."
Kobe's Legacy Will Be 'Greater Than Infinity'
Kobe Bryant's legacy has continued to grow in the year since his death. The "Mamba Mentality" still inspires people to reach the highest level of achievement (in any field), and the Los Angeles Lakers dedicated their run to the 2020 NBA championship to Kobe and his family.
His widow, Vanessa Bryant, is dedicated to continuing the good work of his foundation and keeping the memory of her husband, her daughter Gianna and those others lost in the crash alive. Vanessa now controls Kobe's vast fortune, an estimated $600 million at the time of his death, and has become the CEO of his media company, Granity Studios.
Granity was a word Kobe created from the words "greater than infinity" and represented his reinvention as a storyteller after basketball. Kobe approached his post-playing days with the same laser-focused intensity he had on the court and was active in developing many stories for a variety of media.
Vanessa is keeping his business interests moving forward.
Legends Never Die
That's why the Kobe story isn't over. Remember what he said about how to be successful.
"Just get better a little bit every day. That’s all. There’s no secret formula or secret sauce. At the end of the day, look in the mirror and ask yourself, 'Did I get better today?'"
In other words, keep going.
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