Former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were killed Sunday morning after a helicopter crashed in Calabasas just before 10 a.m. Bryant and Gianna were on their way to Thousand Oaks for her basketball practice. He was 41.
Bryant grew up as a fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and played with them for all of his 20-year career. Considered by many as one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Bryant was an 18-time All-Star and the 2008 league MVP, leading the Lakers to five NBA championships.
Bryant had three straight championship-winning seasons with teammate Shaquille O’Neal and head coach Phil Jackson from 2000-02 before O’Neal was traded to the Miami Heat in 2004. That trade, however, cemented Bryant’s role as the Lakers’ franchise leader. He would go on to win two more championships with Jackson and teammate Pau Gasol in 2009 and 2010 before tearing an Achilles tendon in 2013 at age 34.
Bryant was always one of the most respected players in the league during his career and a staple of Los Angeles inside and outside of sports. The news of his passing impacted USC students — Lakers fans or not — who grew up watching and idolizing the “Black Mamba.”
“It’s more than just basketball really with Kobe, he kind of just encompassed everything L.A.,” said Diego Briones, a junior majoring in political science. “Especially because it’s such an artsy town, he was such a sophisticated, intellectual person … He really viewed the sport like an art and I think that really resonates with a lot of Los Angeles citizens.”
Bryant was also a two-time Olympic gold medalist in Beijing and London and served as a key figure in helping expand the NBA’s international reach, attracting and inspiring young fans from all across the world.
Bryant moved to Italy when he was 6 as his father had retired from the NBA to play internationally. Overseas, Bryant not only learned how to speak fluent Italian and play soccer but he started to seriously learn how to play basketball.
“He’s an international icon,” Briones said. “He helped take basketball international … I think he’s pivotal in that regard.”
Bryant’s tenacious work ethic, highlighted in his book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” has served as a model for young athletes and others inside and outside the realm of sports. He was known for his unwavering, constant willingness to improve.
“Kobe’s legacy isn’t even basketball, it’s work ethic and dedication,” said Jayden Smith, a sophomore majoring in political science. “The way Kobe trained, he did that in every aspect of his life. Everything he does he obsesses over it, over the minute details, and does everything he can to be better than the person that he’s competing against.”
For many, that drive and determination extends past basketball.
“Kobe has been my role model my whole life, sort of my idol,” said Tyler Ghajar, a freshman majoring in art. “I got inspiration from his work ethic and determination … to sort of apply that to my life. He was more than an athlete in terms of what he meant for this city and just for people in general.”
Bryant’s legacy is a somewhat complicated one. In 2003, Bryant was arrested and charged for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel employee in Colorado. The accuser later dropped the charges after refusing to testify but later filed a separate civil suit against Bryant. Bryant did not directly admit guilt but publicly apologized for the circumstances between himself and the employee.
Bryant’s death comes just one day after he was passed by current Lakers superstar LeBron James for third all-time on the NBA’s career scoring leaderboard. James was seen in tears after the Lakers landed in Los Angeles after flying in from Philadelphia, Bryant’s hometown.
After the news of Bryant’s death was first reported by TMZ Sports and followed by confirmation by multiple outlets, numerous celebrities, sports figures and fans were quick to share their grief on social media. Memorials were quickly set up near the crash site and outside Staples Center, the Lakers’ home arena and site of the 2020 Grammy Awards show that began just hours later, bringing a mix of attendees and mourners to L.A. Live.
“I hope people — regardless of their affiliation to teams, whether they’re a Laker fan or whether they’re a Celtic fan, whether they’re even a basketball fan or even a sports fan — just recognize what he meant to the city,” Smith said. “He was able to get a whole city to get behind him and embrace him … Kobe is L.A. basketball.”
Bryant — especially after his retirement — was also an outspoken advocate for growing women’s basketball, frequently attending college and WNBA games, coaching Gianna’s teams and using social media to praise women’s basketball players.
Bryant has become a household name for many across the globe, including those outside of the basketball community and fanbase. His legacy and approach towards his goals even impacted people off the court that did not tune in to witness his impressive on-court performances.
“Kobe Bryant really was a huge influence even on those of us who never really were big on basketball,” freshman Economics major Freya Haksar said. “He was the kind of icon that gave you a vision of success…He was always kind of a figure for us to keep pushing forward, to turn our challenges and pressures into lessons, and a drive to always keep our heads up and better ourselves and spread that energy to the people around us.”
Almost four years after the final game of Bryant’s career — a 60-point performance against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center in April 2016 — his impact is still felt in the NBA. Now, after Bryant’s passing, his legacy in the sport and in the lives of fans around the world is sure to live on.
“I think his passing is definitely a part of the city is passing, too,” Ghajar said. “And any sport you can apply his mindset, the Mamba Mentality to it. You can apply the Mamba Mentality to anything in life, really. [He] will be missed everywhere.”
Bryant and Gianna are survived by Kobe’s wife Vanessa and three daughters — Natalia Diamante (17), Bianka Bella (3) and Capri Kobe (7 months).