Staff writer reflects on legacy of Kobe Bryant

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, January 30th, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Few events can bring the entire world to a complete halt. Presidential elections, wars, peace agreements. Global events. Sunday, like many times that we, as the global community, stop what we’re doing and watch the news unfold, it was because of a tragedy: Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in California. It was the kind of event where you have to take a moment and read, and reread, the headlines over and over again to make sure what you’re seeing is correct. And it is. The Mamba is gone. Our collective basketball lives have been altered. 

I, like many other unfortunate basketball souls, have the burden of being a fan of the New York Knicks. This means that playoff teams, or just slightly noteworthy teams, are few and far between. So, this means that I have to appreciate the greatness of others from afar. 

In my youth, there was no one greater than Kobe Bryant. His poster hung in my bedroom. Despite the fact that he played on the opposite coast, despite the fact that his games often didn’t tip-off until 10 p.m., despite the fact that I had to go to school the next day, Kobe commanded my attention, my respect and my best imitation in the driveway. 

Born in Philadelphia, Bryant rose to prominence as a McDonald’s All-American in high school. While he had offers to attend nearly every school in the country, he chose to become only the sixth player in NBA history to jump directly from high school to the league. He was selected No. 13 overall by the Charlotte Hornets, and thanks to a draft-day trade, was then sent to the Los Angeles Lakers, where he would play for the next 20 seasons until he retired. 

Kobe accomplished everything a basketball player could hope to accomplish. He won five championships and the last two were without the help of fellow legend Shaquille O’Neal, proving to the world he didn’t need Shaq to be a champion. He won the 2008 league MVP. He won two Finals MVPs. He was an 18-time All-Star. He led the league in scoring twice and nine times was named to the All-NBA defensive team. Until the night before he died, he was third all-time in total points in the history of the league. Flat out, the Mamba was the best. 

Of course, like all human beings, Bryant wasn’t without his flaws. It was rumored he was a bad teammate. He had a diva-like quality to him that occasionally made him impossible to play with. He demanded to be traded from the Lakers on several occasions. Significantly more important was the 2003 sexual assault case against him that was settled out of court. Because of this, as I got older and started to understand what these accusations really meant, I started to cool on Kobe. But he was getting older anyway. LeBron had taken over the league. It was easy to no longer idolize Bryant.

But Kobe would not let me just fade away. He became the youngest player ever to get to 20,000 career points, and it came against the Knicks. I remember that game well; my brother and I watched Kobe shred our beloved team, wanting so badly to root against him but instead simply being mesmerized by his ability. 

Then, in 2009, he won a title against the Orlando Magic, the team that featured Dwight Howard, who was my favorite player at the time. I was sure that Howard and his Superman persona were unstoppable. But Kobe played kryptonite and won his fourth title that year. In the series, which lasted only five games, Kobe averaged 32 points per contest. There was no question who the best player in the world was at that moment. The next season, Bryant and the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics, the star winning his fifth and final title. There is not a team in basketball I hate more than the Celtics, and to watch Kobe crush their dreams made me a fan once again. 

I’m not sure fan is the right word. As a basketball player, absolutely, I was and still am a supporter of Kobe and his ability on the court. However, I still have complicated feelings about his legacy off the court. Bryant made me smile, and he made me feel inspired that I could (never successfully) do the things he did on the court. He made me happy to watch basketball games, particularly playoff games when the Knicks had long been eliminated. “I’d like to see Kobe win one more,” I’d say when my friends asked who I was rooting for in the postseason. 

However, there is no denying that the 2003 incident in Colorado would stick with me as I watched him. To his credit, he seemed to do everything the right way following the settlement. He did everything the victim asked, including issuing a public apology. He reshaped his image over the remainder of his life and became known as a family man and strong advocate for women’s basketball. 

A cynical person would have to wonder whether or not this was because of the sexual assault case. Should a person’s mistakes follow them forever, even if by all accounts they’ve repented? I do not know the answer to that, nor do I believe this to be the time to debate it. What I can say for certain was how Bryant’s life came to an end was a tragedy that we in the sports world rarely see. 

Kobe Bryant did things that we, in my best estimation, will never see again. He scored 81 points in a single game against the Toronto Raptors, the closest anyone has ever come to Wilt Chamberlain’s record of 100. He won two Olympic gold medals representing America in 2008 and 2012. In his final game ever, at the age of 37 and on two bad knees, Kobe scored 60 points. He has two numbers — both 8 and 24 — retired by the Lakers. He won an Oscar and is the only non-actor to have his hand print at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. How many people in the world are only known by their first name? The list goes on and on. 

These are the things that people will remember about Kobe. These are the things that Kobe deserves to have remembered about him. But there is another part of Kobe’s life that we will always remember, too. Good and bad, it all seems to fall into the legacy we leave. On the court, Bryant leaves a legacy of one of the greatest players of all-time. A champion, a competitor, a genius. Off the court, his legacy is murky and complicated. Perhaps what we would remember him for best was still to come, part of his second half. Now we will never know. 

Tags: kobe bryant

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