The world lost one of the most iconic stars of basketball in the death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in the early hours of Sunday, January 26 in Calabasas, California, USA. He died with his 13 year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other persons on board the ill-fated helicopter. It was a monumental tragedy. Without doubt, the sporting world has lost a basketball legend.
Aged 41, Kobe Bryant was an American professional basketball star whose genius transcends the beautiful courts of basketball which his charming personality dignified for the 20 years his career spanned. In his career, he was famous for numbers 18, 81 and 20. Kobe broke on the scene as an 18-year-old, fresh from high school and in the process became the youngest player in the history of the NBA in 1996. At 19, he made history as the youngest starter in an NBA All-Star game. In 2006, Kobe achieved the distinction of netting 81 points in a single game versus Toronto Raptors. No one apart from Wilt Chamberlain, who amassed a whopping 100 points in 1962, has come near the mark. Of the spectacular achievement, Phil Jackson, his legendary coach at LA Lakers said: “That was something to behold. It was another level. I’ve seen some remarkable games, but I’ve never seen one like that before.”
Kobe went on to achieve many other mercurial heights in his enviable career, which included five NBA championships and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA in 2008 and 2012. He did all these over a career period of 20 years playing for one team: LA Lakers! As an everlasting testament to this achievement, the LA Lakers retired forever his iconic Nos. 8 and 24 blue and gold jerseys, which he donned during his eventful career with them. Kobe scored a remarkable 62 points in his last game with the Lakers in 2016, ensuring he left when the ovation was loudest. He was an exceptional athlete and an engaging personality whose exploits went beyond the courts of basketball. Upon retirement he did what any competitive and creative mastermind would do. His retirement letter: “Dear Basketball” was turned into a short film, working with the genius of Glen Keane Productions. He won an Oscar for the effort. Bryant built a $2billion business empire which encompassed interest in various areas including sports, entertainment and branding. He was a brand master better known for how well he built his Black Mamba brand.
Kobe also spearheaded the ESPN series, “Details” which has become a veritable platform for having a rare and vivid peep into the minds of super athletes. His success with the series has seen the likes of Payton Manning, Nick Saban and MMA fighter, Daniel Cormier join him in taking their super arts to their numerous fans all over the world.
As expected, a glittering giant like Kobe could not have been spared some of the close examinations that celebrities are often brought under. Early in his marriage, a young lady came up with allegations of sexual harassment which Kobe vigorously contested. However, the allegations soon suffered a natural death as the accuser never publicly showed up to validate her claims. Kobe was not spared the limelight which success seemed to confer on celebrities, especially blacks. He was not one to shy away from expressing an opinion. So when ultra-right Fox News journalist, Laura Ingraham, threw the jibe at LeBron James and Kevin Durant – undoubtedly two of the greatest black athletes ever—to “shut up and dribble,” Bryant seized the auspicious occasion of his Academy Award for his role in the short film mentioned earlier to say: “I don’t know if it is possible. I mean as basketball players, we are really supposed to shut up and dribble, but I’m glad we do a little bit more.”
The above remarks underlined the intelligence and class of the great athlete the world is mourning. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the definitive pathfinder of basketball, in his tribute, remarked of his exceptional intelligence. Former US President, Barack Obama called him a “Legend of the court.”
Kobe was indeed more than that. He left a distraught wife, Vanessa and his three other daughters to mourn his tragic exit. The sporting world is inconsolable too. But as Kobe remarked in his last tweet congratulating Lebron James for over taking him as No.3 on the NBA All-Star scoring list, those who remain must “continue moving the game forward.” May his sporting soul rest in peace.