On the Anniversary of Kobe Bryant's Death, the Sports World Reflects on His Life and Legacy

People stop to take pictures in front of the new mural by French artist Mr. Brainwash picturing Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi in Los Angeles on January 31, 2020.
People stop to take pictures in front of the new mural by French artist Mr. Brainwash picturing Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi in Los Angeles on January 31, 2020.
Photo: Chris Delmas (Getty Images)

I think we can all recall the exact moment that we learned of the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gigi.

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For me, I was at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, mentally preparing for a panel that I was about to attend when I got an ESPN alert on my phone.

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“Shit, I forgot to put my phone on vibrate,” I thought out loud.

That’s when I went to check to see what it was and received the same grim news as millions of others at the exact same time: NBA legend Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest athletes in the history of professional sports, was no longer with us.

I almost dropped my phone in shock.

“Oh my God,” was all I could muster.

Having spent almost my entire life despising the Lakers with every fiber of my being, I would be lying if I said I was a fan. I was anything but. However, the argument could be made that my emotional investment in Kobe—the countless hours I spent hoping and praying for a missed shot or a heartbreaking loss that never came into fruition (especially against my Orlando Magic)—surpassed that of even his most ardent fans.

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I looked around the room in disbelief and could immediately tell that everyone was processing the same unwavering grief. The whispers were getting louder and louder, there were audible sobs, and my stomach folded itself into knots.

“Oh my God...”

All I could think about was his wife, Vanessa, and the anguish that consumed her at that moment. Then I thought about my own son and I literally felt my knees buckle. The thought was too painful to bear.

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In the weeks that followed, I learned a lot about the city I now call home, Los Angeles. I remember thinking that when Nipsey Hussle was tragically murdered in 2019, that that was the first time I had ever seen a city with a broken heart. But when I returned from Sundance, I could feel the impact of Kobe’s death before I even stepped off of my plane. And that feeling only magnified as I drove home, riding past murals and impromptu shrines, buildings adorned in purple and gold lights, and Kobe jerseys as ubiquitous as the air itself.

Yet as moving as all of this was, I didn’t shed a single tear until I attended Kobe’s public memorial last February. I have never in my life cried like I did that day.

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To be surrounded by so many people who genuinely, wholeheartedly loved that man and were unable to find the words to properly articulate their anguish, to see the look on Vanessa’s face—in person—as she bid a final farewell to the daughter and husband she cherished, it was just too much.

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I was inconsolable.

“Oh my God...”

So in reflecting on all of this a year to the day that the world lost one of its most celebrated champions, I’ve learned that I’m not alone in being irreparably shaken by the lives that were lost that day, as countless sports figures, entertainers and others have taken to social media to pay tribute to the NBA’s fallen star.

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“I’ll always wish I had one more conversation with Kobe,” Scottie Pippen tweeted. “For all his greatness and everything he accomplished, his best days were still to come. My thoughts are with the family and friends of Kobe, Gianna, and all the others who were taken from us far too soon a year ago today.”

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“Thank you God for allowing me [to] enjoy Kobe Bryant for 20 years as a great basketball player, athlete, husband, father, philanthropist, mentor & teacher of the game to many men & women of all ages, best friend to Rob Pelinka, & brother to @jeaniebuss,” Magic Johnson tweeted. “Kobe will always be my @Lakers brother for life.”

NFL reporter Dov Kleiman posted a clip of the moment that NFL players learned about Kobe’s death during the 2020 Pro Bowl:

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ESPN’s SportsCenter shared a clip of a tribute to Kobe, performed by Snoop Dogg:

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Tributes by Chance the Rapper and Dr. Dre are also making the rounds:

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New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu, a close friend of the Bryant family and a collegiate player who Kobe mentored prior to his passing, released a statement:

I carry Kobe and Gigi with me every day and honor their legacies through my dedication to the game. I wake up every day grateful for the platform I’ve been given and I strive to lead by example and serve as a role model for young people and especially girls to pursue sports — a platform Kobe and Gigi were passionate about. I saw the way he supported his family and his constant advocacy for women’s basketball. His encouragement and promotion of equality in sports along with his Mamba Mentality is what motivates me today.

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Jemele Hill noted that had Kobe still been with us, she believes that he would’ve provided a “powerful voice” during what became a tumultuous 2020 after his death.

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Words can’t even begin to describe what Vanessa Bryant is feeling today. But she still found the courage to post a letter on Instagram from one of Gigi’s best friends, Aubrey.

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“Thank you so much for beautifully sharing some of your memories of my Gigi with me and allowing me to share them here on my ig,” Vanessa captioned her post. “My Gigi is INCREDIBLE and I truly appreciate your thoughtful letter. She loves you so much. I miss my baby girl and Kob-Kob so much, too. ♥️ I will never understand why/how this tragedy could’ve happened to such beautiful, kind and amazing human beings. It still doesn’t seem real. Kob, we did it right. Gigi, you still make mommy proud. I love you!”

Sending love and light to the friends and family of the Bryant family.

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for y'all to stop putting sugar in grits.

DISCUSSION

houstondude2016
HoustonDude2016

Pssst, hey, don’t tell anyone about this, but Kobe raped a woman.