Kobe Bryant, an NBA legend, family man, and advisor to younger athletes, was tragically killed in a helicopter crash along with his daughter Gianna and 7 other people a few weeks ago. This news predictably stunned every one in the sports world. Lots of people made tributes for the man who they called the Black Mamba. So the question is, why did he get so many tributes and how could he have had such a big impact on millions?
The first reason why so many idolize Bryant, is because he's one of the greatest basketball players of all time. For 20 seasons with only the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant was unstoppable. Coming into the league, he was just a kid out of high school. But he slowly blossomed into one of the league's youngest and most entertaining stars. In addition, he quickly formed a duo with their dominant big man Shaquille O'Neal that was one of the most exciting in the league. His partnership with Shaq became a generational duo and the Lakers won 3 straight NBA Finals. Though Shaq won Finals MVP in all of those appearances, Bryant could've retired after winning in 2002 and made the Hall of Fame. Their seasons as a duo would only last for 2 more before they traded O'Neal.
But that didn't stop Kobe from putting up some of the greatest scoring performances ever for the next 3 years after. Some of those outings included outscoring the entire Mavericks team through 3 quarters, the second highest scoring game of all time with 81 points, and 4 straight 50 point games. However, the Lakers never made it past the first round of the playoffs. Fortunately, with a refurbished supporting cast, the 2007-08 season was one that saw Bryant add to his mountain of accomplishments by winning his first MVP award as well as an appearance to the Finals for the first time without Shaq. But the year bitterly ended with loss to the hated Boston Celtics in the Finals. So what was Bryant's response to the pressure that was starting to build up about his ability to lead a championship team? He won back to back championships in grueling, yet satisfying fashion. His final championship is arguably his sweetest, as he not only beat the Celtics in the Finals for the first time in his career, but helped the Lakers win their first ever game 7 against the Celtics after 4 previous failures in their history. The next 6 years saw the team rapidly decline, but Kobe refused to lie down. In his final game, he rallied the Lakers from 10 down while dropping an unforgettable 60 points. On the court, Kobe will forever be remembered as a top 10 player of all time.
After basketball, Kobe was also succeeding at other things in his life. He mentored a lot of basketball players such as Kyrie Irving, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Kawhi Leonard. In addition, he supported women's basketball, whether it was the WNBA or college. Kobe sometimes showed his support by talking to teams like UConn and Oregon, or going to WNBA games with Gigi. Along with that, Kobe encouraged people to recognize the abilities of some of these female athletes by mentioning their names in anyway he could. Other athletes like Peyton Manning, Richard Sherman, and Alex Rodriguez talked about the influence Kobe had on them.
A week after the sudden crash, I watched Kobe Bryant's Oscar-winning animated documentary, Dear Basketball, and was amazed by how he beautifully described basketball. He portrayed it as a sport that gave him all of his dreams and he responded by playing with the passion and competitiveness that allowed him to give back to the game what it give to him. When he retired, he was at peace with his decision to say goodbye, and knew that having given one another everything they had, he and the sport will savor every moment. Now and forever.