January 26, 2020 was an eerie, foggy day. This fog came from the night into the morning. The weather was very strange that week and unpredictable. You could not see the sky the whole day. Little did we (Angelinos) know that this eerie fog would lead to the most unimaginable loss no one saw coming.
Kobe Bryant was an LA gem. He gave his heart and soul to our team, the Los Angeles Lakers, for 20 years. He was also known as one of the few celebrities to travel by helicopter in LA. This method of travel was a solution to not compromising his time before and after games, dealing with the infamous LA traffic. After retirement, he continued to use his helicopter as his main method of travel. Sadly his last helicopter ride would not only be his demise, but the demise of his daughter Gianna, two of her team mates, and five others.
Growing up in Los Angeles is anything but boring. Being born in LA, especially as a 90s child, you were attached to three sports teams: the Raiders, the Dodgers and the incredible Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are one of the two teams with the most NBA championship titles. Being on the Lakers meant the lights, the glamour, and the game showtime.
I remember the 1996 NBA draft. Seeing this young 17-year-old from Philly holding up that iconic number eight jersey, no one had any idea of the magic that would unfold for the next 20 years. He was something unique. He just became the youngest NBA draft pick in NBA history. That was just the first part.
I remember a game at the Forum and seeing the brotherly bond between Kobe and Shaq. It was amazing. They were each other’s go-to person. Growing watching the three-peat was timeless. They truly were brothers on and off the court. You see the pictures, highlights and videos of them and there was an amazing energy between them. It was almost fate that they were meant to play together. To this day, no one else has even come close to duplicating the bond and legacy of Kobe and Shaq.
The Lakers go to a new home in 1999: Staples Center. It would be here where the famous three-peat Kobe and Shaq gifts LA. We had a dream team. It was epic to watch at home on the television, or go to any games during 2000-2002. That was a magical time for LA. Watching the Lakers parades showed how much love LA had for its Lakers.
During this time, Kobe had the buzz of being compared to Michael Jordan, his idol. Kobe first played Jordan in 1997, where the Lakers played the Chicago Bulls. Kobe lost that first game against Jordan. They would play a total of eight times, with Kobe winning majority of the games on a 5-3 ratio. Kobe earned the respect of his idol on and off the court.
Like Jordan, Kobe earned the respect of his peer and teammate Shaq. This brotherly bond can not be compared to anything else we have seen in the league. Sadly, the dynamic duo would part ways and Kobe would feel the hurt and pain of losing.
The Black Mamba is Born
After losing Shaq to the Miami Heat, Kobe learned the meaning of defeat. Not winning or going to the NBA Finals for several years changed Kobe. We, the LA natives watched how Kobe went from this young kid coming into the league to becoming a superstar. After losing the first year without Shaq, Kobe’s mindset begins to change. Those several years the Lakers didn’t win or didn’t go to the finals, Kobe would become the Black Mamba. it was during this time Kobe’s free-throws would gain popularity.
I remember specifically in middle school and high school, making paper balls with classmates and practicing free throws with a trash bin. We would be anywhere from three to eight feet from the trash bin and try to make the shot. What made this activity so memorable is yelling ‘Kobe’ while making the shot. That was a huge part of my childhood. Kobe was a huge part of my childhood.
The Infamous Sex Allegation
One event showed how much we loved Kobe, despite his flaws. The 2003 Colorado alleged rape allegation was a huge test for Kobe and Los Angeles. Though dismissed, this incident almost destroyed Kobe’s career. Thankfully Los Angeles still had enough love to take Kobe back and let him earn the trust back of not only his family, but the trust of Los Angeles.
The sex allegation of Kobe Bryant did put a strain on my view on Kobe as a person. Even though the case was dropped, I felt for Vanessa and the rest of Los Angeles. It took time to heal, but Kobe would eventually earn our trust back and gave us 13 additional years.
Kobe the Leader
Fast forward to the Kobe and Pau Gasol Laker era. This is a time where Kobe has become the leader of the Lakers. This is also Kobe the father and husband. He built a new team with a new partner, Pau Gasol. This new duo proved to be successful. They almost duplicated the famous three-peat. Kobe wasn’t just the leader of the Lakers but the leader of LA basketball. He not only influenced his teammates, but an entire generation in LA, Because of his “Mamba Mentality”, he inspired both men and women in sports.
Kobe would give his all in his career with the Lakers. He was not just a superstar, he was the heart of the Lakers. I can’t recall any other player dedicating 20 years to one team. He had several other highlight moments.
I remember a few amazing events myself watching at home. I remember the night he scored 81 points in one game, when he moon-walked after a free throw(just kidding, Ellen), him playing on an injured Achilles, and best of all: his last game where he scored 60 points. He always had to make so impact, which is something I will always admire about Kobe.
Kobe’s last game was one to remember. When announcing his retirement in 2016, we were shocked but could not blame our very own super-being. Though we looked at him as immortal, Kobe’s body had been through enough. That last game, he gave everything he could and more. Kobe scored 60 points, which is unheard of for a retiree, and gave a humbled speech, which he acknowledged his wife of being his his rock. As sad as it was to see him walk away from the court, it was time for our guy to rest. After 20 years of blood, sweat and tears, Kobe finally could focus on the more personal things, like being with his family and other ventures.
As much as I was hoping that there was another three-peat left in him, it was time for Kobe to retire. He was my favorite player and seeing him wrap up his career hurt. However, I would see later that him leaving basketball would allows us to see a few different sides of Kobe.
The New Ventures for the Black Mamba
Who would have guessed that this man of such athletic talent would go to be an author, an Oscar winner, a philanthropist, and a coach. Since retirement, Kobe has stayed busy. Besides being a family man, he published three books, won an Oscar for his animated short Dear Basketball, and created the Mamba Academy. He was definitely breaking some new barriers and we (LA) loved it. But the one activity he seemed to be invested in was coaching is daughter Gianna, who naturally inherited his love for basketball. She was on the Mamba Academy basketball team her father coached and her school team as well.
Gianna had a special bond with her father. Kobe and Gianna adored each other on and off the basketball court. They would attend games together and practice at home.
One of the most amazing things I ever witnessed was the love he had for his family, especially his daughters. He was happy having all girls and you could not tell him anything about it. He embraced his daughters and showed a love that many men don’t display towards their daughters. So thank you Kobe for showing that love.
Black Mamba, gone at 41
January 26, 2020, would be one of the most heart-breaking days for LA. Kobe, his daughter Gianna (13), two of her teammates and five others would perish in a helicopter crash on a hillside that morning. It was a cold, foggy morning where you couldn’t see the sky. On their way to a game at the Mamba Academy, the helicopter was flying too low at an accelerated rate. This would result in the nine passengers on this helicopter being killed in a fiery crash. When TMZ broke the news, the world felt a strain of pain.
Losing Kobe was losing a part of my childhood, losing the chance to meet him, and just so many sad emotions. I felt like part of my heart for LA died with him. The world has been hurting. But it’s sad because his daughter was with him. That’s what stung the most. Gianna was a prodigy in the making and now we will never know what she could have done for women’s basketball. Who knows if she and her the two teammates could have done for basketball. It hurt especially to hear about the girls because they were only 13. They had not begun to live their full lives yet.
We also need to acknowledge that Orange county is hurting too. They lost a family that day as well. A coach, pilot and another family was lost. It was huge loss for Southern California.
I didn’t lose someone directly, but Kobe was part of my life. He was a part of my childhood and watching him was a part of my adult life as well. It nearly broke my heart to learn about the girls. They were so young. They didn’t get the chance to grow up. This shows how short life can be.
Moving on from this will not be easy. However, we must look at Vanessa. She is keeping strong and that what we (Angelinos) need to do as well. He lived his life to the fullest, we should all follow in his footsteps. Remember the important people in your life, give it your best, and as Kobe stated “leave a lasting impact”. Thank you for everything. You were truly from out of this world and blessed us with the Mamba Mentality. Rest in peace to you, Gianna and the others.