Raymond Lucas, Tyler Haslam, Emily Miller, Alec Cipollini and Jace Cook all contributed to this story.
A year ago, legendary player Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash alongside his daughter Gianna. Today, we remember the famed shooting guard, and the light he brought to the court.
Emily: Growing up 20 minutes outside of Los Angeles, everyone was a fan of Kobe Bryant. He stole the heart of almost every Lakers fan I knew, and he will always be the 2000s kids’ MVP.
When I was 11 years old, all the neighborhood kids would find a living room to pile up in and turn on the TV to watch the 2010-11 season. We had recently cheered for the Lakers after their 2009-10 championship win, and it would be no different this time around.
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were going into game seven against the Boston Celtics. This playoff run alone had everyone excited, with two teams involved in arguably one of the greatest rivalries ever, and we were lucky enough to see them on their home court.
The series had been back and forth, but I distinctly remember that I knew the Lakers would come out on top. What kid didn’t expect that of their favorite team? Kobe played the entire series the way you expected of him. He had the ability to impact every game he played in. It may not have always been in shots, but it was often in points and intensity. Kobe was a leader on and off the court.
It was a controversial call to give Kobe the Finals MVP title as game seven ended, and he gave the Lakers franchise their 16th title. The score read 83-79.
People have often said his final game of that series was lacking, but the six games before that were nothing short of a tremendous effort. He averaged 28.6 points, eight rebounds and four assists per game. When he was awarded the trophy for MVP, Kobe had made it clear that it wasn’t just his effort that got the team there — it was everyone’s.
Kobe’s ambition to win took him far in his career, and his character will always be something to remember. It brought him a long list of awards, championships and medals.
Jace: I’ll be honest, Kobe Bryant was not a player I always rooted for. I am and was a die hard Jazz fan. When you are a Jazz fan, you pretty much have to hate the Lakers. It’s a rule.
I remember whenever the Jazz played the Lakers in the playoffs, the Jazz would lose the series. I remember being so happy after a playoff game where the Jazz only lost by one to the Lakers. The Lakers with Kobe dominated the court. I remember even calling Kobe a ball hog. I never thought he passed enough. When I got older, I understood that he was so good, he could control the ball like that and still come out on top. I saw why people would always shout “Kobe” when shooting a crumbled paper ball into a trash can.
Kobe Bryant was a legend and left a huge impact on the game of basketball. I love the Mamba mentality that he showed while playing. He always worked to get better and better. I believe athletes from all sports from around the world can learn from Kobe and his Mamba mentality.
Kobe did legendary things even after retirement. I admire how much he focused on his family. I remember seeing Kobe on the sidelines with his daughter Gianna. He would teach her about basketball while at the games.
Kobe also enjoyed soccer, which is my favorite sport, and loved seeing him in the soccer community. Another one of my favorite memories is when he talked to Luka Doncic in his native language, Slovenian, in the middle of a game. Doncic was wondering who was speaking his language to him, then he turned around and found Kobe. They both smiled. I think Kobe’s impact on basketball will last forever. He is a legend for what he did on the court and what he did off of it.
Alec: I only started following basketball in 2015, toward the end of Kobe Bryant’s career, so I don’t remember too much about it. I knew who he was, and I realized how much he was idolized before he retired and eventually passed away. Since the rest of the Lakers’ roster was awful when he was about to call it quits, I only watched for Kobe.
There was a day in 2018 that I came across a random video on YouTube with Kobe in it. It was a game highlight showing when Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers took on the Orlando Magic in March of 2010.
Former Magic player Matt Barnes was getting ready on an inbound to pass the ball to one of his teammates. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant walked up to guard Barnes. As the referee gave the ball to Barnes, he tried to make Kobe flinch by pretending to throw the ball and get Bryant to react.
The joke was on Barnes when Kobe seemed unfazed and didn’t move a muscle as the ball flew toward him. This showed the cold-blooded side of Kobe Bryant that made me always remember just how fun it was to watch the league with him in it.
There was no one like Kobe Bryant in basketball. His demeanor and drive to be one of the best basketball players in the existence of the NBA has inspired many people to follow in his footsteps.
Tyler: As a Jazz fan, growing up I had quite the abhorrence for the Lakers. Kobe often had a hand in knocking the Jazz out of the playoffs. Despite my disdain for the Lakers, I always respected Kobe. In fact, during the latter years of Kobe’s career, my respect for him surprisingly grew into a subtle form of admiration.
While I was a Jazz fan, I was ultimately a fan of basketball, and there are few who contributed as many great moments to the game as Kobe Bryant. To me, the culmination of all those great moments was Kobe’s final game against none other than the Jazz.
Going into that game, at the time, part of me wanted the Jazz to crash Kobe’s going away party, but I got the vibe from the get-go that the great Kobe had no intention of going out in that way. In typical yet beautiful Kobe fashion, Bryant came out of the gates guns blazing. Shooting nearly every time he touched the ball, Bryant attempted a staggering 50 shots.
I don’t think anyone expected anything less from him, and with the high volume of shots came an even higher volume of points. Bryant finished with 60 points, including a string of tough buckets in the fourth quarter that allowed the Lakers to ultimately beat the Jazz. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way for Kobe’s legendary NBA career to come to an end. Kobe was a baller, but even more than that, he was a winner, and ending on a win like that seemed more than fitting.
Although I was disappointed that my Jazz didn’t win, I couldn’t help but smile as I watched Kobe’s brilliant career come to an end in such a poetic way.
Ray: After a historic career that captivated millions of fans, Kobe Bryant continued to push the game forward after his retirement, which spoke eloquently for his love of the game.
It’s easy to find bashful comments from former players in the NBA, but we never got that from him. Instead, he created a platform called Detail on ESPN+ and used it to break down the game and provide insight to fans who have a deep knowledge of the sport or are trying to learn. Kobe was an educator.
Rather than participating in the never ending debate of “the greatest player of all time,” he preached appreciation instead. He took to Twitter to tell fans to enjoy Michael Jordan’s six rings, his five and LeBron’s quest. Kobe was gracious.
Kobe was often spotted with Gianna Bryant as their love for the sport and each other sent warmth through the basketball community. He became an avid supporter of women’s basketball, and his faith in her was strong.
It’s been a year since the tragedy, and I can’t help but wish that I appreciated him and his impact more while he was here.
Miles: It was over 100 degrees on a hot summer day when my brother and I were playing basketball in our driveway awaiting the big game — USA vs. Spain. I was nine years old, and that summer nothing was bigger than the Olympics. Just weeks earlier, I ran out to my mailbox and tore through Sports Illustrated for a look at the 2008 USA Olympic Basketball roster.
I’ve been watching basketball with my brother ever since I can remember, and we had just watched Kobe take on the Celtics’ Big Three in the NBA Finals. These Finals are memorable for me because it was the beginning of the Mamba mentality in motion.
Kobe and the Lakers lost in six games to Garnett, Allen and Pierce, and not in the most graceful of ways, with the Lakers losing the sixth game by 39 points. When he stood on the court with the green confetti falling down, you could tell he’d be back, but it was on to the Olympics.
The All-Star game is great, but Team USA is the best of the best playing on the same team. While Avengers: Endgame featured heroes in red and white uniforms, eleven years before the movie released, the Avengers of basketball weren’t headed back in time, but to Beijing. Instead of Captain America and Iron Man, it was LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
LeBron the heart and soul of the team, and Kobe the precise, unbeatable combination of man and machine– Kobe had powered through multiple broken fingers earlier that year and would later in his career drain two free throws while limping on a torn Achilles tendon.
At the time Team USA was still haunted by its Bronze finish in the summer 2004 games after they lost to Argentina in the semifinals. But this time was different. Lil Wayne said it best in his 2009 song “Kobe Bryant”: ‘Went to Beijing and came back with the bling.’ Which is exactly what he did as he led the team to victory, not with the snap of his fingers, but with the flick of his wrist and the slamming of the basketball through the hoop.
The Mamba mentality was on full display on the world stage, and it was just the beginning. After falling to Boston earlier that year, Kobe got his revenge by taking home the Larry O’Brien Trophy the following two years, beating the Boston Celtics in 2010 to do it.
Those Olympic Games are some of my favorite games Kobe played because they were the epitome of everything he was: the leader on a team of leaders, the go-to guy on a team of go-to guys, the MVP on a team of MVP’s and your favorite player’s favorite player.