The Tragic Passing of Kobe Bryant


(Photo: Elsa/ Getty Images)

Kaya Squirewell and Sean Baker

On Sunday January 26, a wave of shock reverberated throughout the world with the news of the tragic and sudden death of Kobe Bean Bryant due to a deadly helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The horrific news of his passing was first reported by TMZ at 11:24 ET. When the news first broke, many were surprised and frantically struggling to figure out what had happened as news stations were scrambling to get an accurate read on the situation. At first, many reported Kobe’s four daughters were with him, others said his wife Vanessa Bryant was with him, and some even added that Kobe’s former teammate Rick Fox was onboard as well. It was not until a few hours after the crash that reporters were able to confirm the full and accurate version of events: Kobe Bryant along with his 13 year old daughter Gianna Bryant (otherwise known as Gigi) and seven others were killed on the way to a girls travel basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. The seven other people included baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their basketball-playing daughter Alyssa; mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester; Mamba Academy basketball coach Christina Mauser; and pilot Ara Zobayan. Bad foggy weather was reported by the LAPD early Sunday morning, which many believe to be the cause of the crash.

Kobe Bryant is well known around the world because of his incredible basketball career. Bryant was the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant. He spent part of his childhood in Italy, where his father played professionally overseas and eventually moved to Philadelphia, where he grew up. Bryant skipped college and went to the NBA straight out of high-school at the age of 18 where he was drafted in the first round of the 1996 draft by the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte would then trade Kobe to the Los Angeles Lakers for center Vlade Divac, a decision the Hornets’ organization would soon regret. Kobe Bryant remained a Los Angeles Laker for the rest of his 20 year career as right away, Kobe’s potential became apparent to the Lakers. 

In just his second season he was selected to be an all-star starter, making him the youngest to do so at that time. Along with being an all star-starter, Kobe won the dunk contest in 1997. Within the next few years Kobe, along with Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, would help bring back success to the Lakers. These two all-star caliber players help lead the way to wins for the Lakers in three straight NBA finals in the years 2000, 2001 and 2002. However, this dynamic duo was split-up due to multiple feuds the two stars would have on and off the court. The Lakers chose to keep Kobe and trade Shaquille O’Neal to the Miami Heat–giving Kobe a massive contract lasting seven years worth over $136.4 million. 

Over the next few seasons Kobe absolutely dominated the rest of the league. The best game of his career came in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors when he scored an unbelievable 81 points, the second most points scored in a single game (the first being Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game). The 2007 to 2008 NBA season was arguably Kobe’s best season, averaging 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. These stats would help him win his first and only MVP award. In the 2009 to 2010 season, Bryant helped to win back to back NBA championships (he also won finals MVP in both series).

The later seasons of Kobe’s career would be plagued with a terrible achilles injury. This injury went on to affect him heavily–his play would never be the same. The end of Kobe’s career marked the close of an era that was marked by the massive success of the Lakers. In November of 2015, Bryant announced his retirement. This news did not surprise many due to his age, injuries, and lack of success in recent years. His final game was played at Staples center in Los Angeles against the Utah Jazz on April 13 of the following year, where he scored an unforgettable 60 points.  Shaquille O’Neal interviewed Kobe before the game,  asking him to promise to get to 50 points–something that Kobe went above and beyond in accomplishing. 

Kobe’s career was one of the most legendary and historic in NBA history. His best accolades include five time NBA champion, two time finals MVP, NBA scoring title in two different seasons, 11 time all NBA first time, one time MVP, and 18 time NBA all-star. “Kobe was a once-in-a-generation player who will forever be remembered for his competitive nature and his will to win. They threw away the mold when Kobe Bryant was born. There will never be another like him,” commented former Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. He was an inspiration to people all over the world, and impacted so many lives. To honor him and his legacy, players around the NBA changed their numbers to match his: NHL player Alexander Ovechkin (captain of the Washington Capitals) changed his jersey number to 24 for one game while the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors honored him at a game on the day of his death by starting with a 24 second shot clock violation. These moments were ones out of a long list, truly showing how big of an impact he had through all levels of sport.

However, many also could not help but look at a darker part of his life when examining his legacy. On June 30, 2003, he was charged with felony sexual assault (that could have sent him to prison had he been convicted) after a 19-year-old woman claimed that she was choked and physically blocked from leaving a room by him. The case was dropped after Bryant’s accuser refused to testify in court. Although Bryant found himself to be innocent, he issued a statement of apology that stated this: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” Bryant faced criticism and lost sponsorships, but went on to learn from his mistakes, becoming an advocate and ambassador for woman’s sport.

Beyond basketball, Bryant did many things within the community. He donated both time and money to a variety of charities, wrote books, created short films, and passionately supported women’s sports. His passion for women’s sports inspired other sports fans to start watching and supporting female athletes more than they had before.  In 2018, he won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short for “Dear Basketball,” the movie he created, wrote, and produced based on his own poem. 

Many athletes learned from Kobe on and off the court, and were devastated at the death of a mentor they held dear. “Everything I learned came from Kobe. Everything,” DeMar DeRozan (small forward for the San Antonio Spurs) told reporters, “I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have love. I wouldn’t have the passion, the drive.” Long time friend and competitor, Michael Jordan, remarked that “words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe — he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force.”

Bryant showed his support for women’s sports by attending multiple games to cheer on the WNBA and U.S. Women’s National Soccer teams. He dedicated his life to coaching girls’ basketball, having coached his daughter Gigi on her team. Kobe called Gigi his Mambacita–the basketball female version of him. It was her dream to play college basketball at the University of Connecticut to eventually become a head coach in the WNBA. Gigi accompanied her father to games frequently, having been caught on camera many times listening to him as he break down each play and every detail happening on the court. “I try to watch as much film as I can,” Gigi said in an interview with CBS, “More information, more inspiration.” After the passing of Gigi, the girls basketball game at the University of Connecticut placed a Number 2 jersey with a bouquet of flowers on their bench in honor of Gigi, who wore No. 2 for her dad’s team.

Kobe’s wife, Vanessa Bryant, recently spoke out on social media about the heartbreaking incident. She posted a photo of the entire family on her Instagram with this statement: “My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them. We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri.” Vanessa went on to encourage supporters to donate to the MambaOnThree Fund to help support the other families affected by the tragedy or to visit the Mamba Sports Foundation website to honor Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in sport.

Kobe Bryant was a teammate, husband, father, activist, and creative mind. He will be sorely missed by millions of people across the world, both in sport and out. Our thoughts go out to the Bryant family and to all those affected by this unspeakable tragedy.