So much has been said about Kobe Bryant over the past week and a half and it’s all been right.
Here’s my attempt at eulogizing one of the best basketball players of my generation:
First off, we know most of the details already. Bryant and eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, were killed when the helicopter they were flying in crashed on Jan. 26 en route to a basketball game. Investigators have detailed how the chopper went down – the pilot was trying to avoid a cloud layer. An air traffic controller was heard asking what the pilot intended to do. No response.
Silence. That’s the scariest thing for an air traffic controller to hear when in contact with any aircraft.
We’ve been told that the debris field extended between 500 and 600 feet, meaning the likelihood of anyone surviving that crash was slim to none.
Bryant’s death jarred everyone. No one that I’ve heard or read hasn’t had an opinion of him because he was one of the most indelible marks on the wonderful world we call sport. Not just basketball. Sport. You name the sport and there’s a chance someone or some people have had something to say on Bryant.
I was in high school when Bryant was drafted. That’s probably the only thing Bryant and I had in common: we were both in high school when he was drafted. I can remember people talking about how Bryant should have gone to college instead of declaring himself for the draft as a teenager. High-schoolers can’t handle that sort of pressure.
Well, Wayne Gretzky was able to handle it. He was 18 when he began his march to hockey immortality. Sidney Crosby was also 18 when the Pittsburgh Penguins anointed him the second coming of Mario Lemieux. Connor McDavid? Same deal with Edmonton.
The point I’m making is if we have no problem with hockey players wearing a NHL uniform at 18, why was it a big deal when Bryant did it?
The Charlotte Hornets drafted Bryant 13th overall in 1996 but he would never play for the team and there’s an interesting back story to that. According to Bill Branch, head scout for the Hornets in 1996, the Hornets agreed to trade Bryant to the Lakers the day before the draft; the Lakers were looking to trade Vlade Divac away to free up cap space in order to land Shaquille O’Neal, who was about to become a free agent.
The Lakers actually told the Hornets who to draft literally minutes before they made their pick (totally not tampering at all) and the deal for Divac was made. After signing his contract – co-signed with his parents because he was still only 17 – the legend of Kobe Bryant on court was born.
He would go on to play 20 seasons in the NBA, all with the Lakers, winning five titles along the way. Add to that two scoring titles, 18 all-star game appearances and both of his numbers – 8 and 24 – retired by the Lakers and you have one of the best careers of any player in any generation. He was an Oscar winner for his animated short Dear Basketball, which was his farewell to the sport he loved.
Of course, us Raptors fans will remember the night he dropped 81 points on them in 2006, the second-highest total in NBA history behind just Wilt Chamberlain. What made that night so impressive was that the Lakers were trailing by 14 at halftime. Bryant simply took things over, hitting everything. I was watching that game, shaking my head the whole time.
As my old phys-ed teacher told us in Grade 9: it’s a simple game … you just put the ball in the hole. Bryant was putting the ball in the hole and wasn’t missing.
Now, I’m not going to be one of these people who’s going to tell you to ignore the fact that Bryant had his misgivings. There was that sexual assault allegation leveled against him in 2003 when he was in Colorado to have knee surgery. The case was eventually dropped after the accuser refused to testify in the criminal case but there was a settlement between the two in 2005, the results of which have never been made public but Bryant never admitted any guilt.
The alleged details are rather disgusting but Bryant admitted the two had engaged in consensual relations, or so he thought. He would eventually admit that the encounter wasn’t as consensual as he thought but the damage had been done. His reputation had taken a huge nosedive and he lost endorsements because of it.
There have been plenty of people who have said that the two events are mutually exclusive and the rape allegations shouldn’t be a part of this but they are. It’s a part of his legacy that will never go away. You can mourn his death and think of his family because they are suffering – a wife has lost her husband, children have lost a father and parents have lost a son – but you can’t be forgetful about what happened in 2003.
The day Bryant was killed saw massive outpourings of emotion and tribute. The Raptors played the San Antonio Spurs that day and had perhaps the most fitting of tributes to Bryant. Both teams started the game with identical shot clock violations. Why? Easy: Bryant wore No. 24 and the shot clock is 24 seconds. Several players have said they will never wear 24 again in honour of him.
He’s going to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame this year, which was never a case of if but when. We know now.
The Staples Centre in Los Angeles became the site of a makeshift shrine of sorts as fans paid their own tribute and the game between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 28 was postponed. That was a smart decision.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy on the court will never be questioned. He was a warrior who took control of games like few could.
When he was out on that court, you knew the potential was there for something special to happen and more often that not, it did.