Often times when you hear of a celebrity, sports figure or music talent’s passing via the Internet, you often wonder if it’s a hoax. And you goggle, you wait, you check social media statuses, and more than anything, you watch the news on television for confirmation.
Well this was certainly the case as the death of basketball star Kobe Bryant was confirmed. The retired NBA legend, 41, and his daughter Gianna were among nine people that perished in a helicopter crash, including the pilot, near Calabasas, California on Sunday, January 26. Bryant was traveling with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others to his youth basketball academy.
A King Is Born…
Bryant was the son of former NBA player Joe Bryant. His dad was 6’9” and was drafted in the first round by the Golden State Warriors in 1975, but before the season started he was dealt to his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers, where he played for four seasons. Kobe was born August 23, 1978 in Philadelphia, where he attended Lower Merion High School and was recognized as the top basketball player in the country.
Upon graduation, Kobe declared for the 1996 NBA draft and was selected by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick; the Hornets then traded him to the LA Lakers.
As a rookie, Bryant earned himself the reputation as a high-flyer and became a fan favorite by winning the 1997 NBA All Stars Slam Dunk Contest, and he was named an All Star in his second season. Despite a feud between him and fellow player Shaquille O’Neal, they lead the Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships from 2000 to 2002.
Soon after, he became the cornerstone of the Lakers. Kobe led the NBA in scoring during the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. In 2006 he scored a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, the second most points scored in a single game in league history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962. Kobe earned the Most Valuable Player Award (MVP) in 2008, although the Lakers lost the finals that year. He led the team to two consecutive championships in 2009 and 2010, earning Finals MVP Award on both occasions.
At 34 years old, Bryant became the youngest player in league history to reach 30,000 career points. He became the all-time leading scorer in Lakers franchise history on February 1, 2010 when he surpassed Jerry West. He earned four All-Star MVP Awards in his career. At the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics, he won two gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team. In 2018 he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his film Dear Basketball.
Bryant was called “one of the greatest players in the history of our game” by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. The New York Times wrote that he had “one of the best decorated careers in the history of the sport.” ESPN ranked him as the second-best shooting guard after Michael Jordan. Bryant was named an All-Star in 18 of his 20 seasons with the Lakers. Both numbers he wore during his career, 8 and 24, were retired by the Lakers on December 18, 2017.
He suffered a torn Achilles heel in 2013, and while he recovered from that injury, he also suffered season-ending injuries to his knee and shoulder, respectively, in the following two seasons. Citing his physical decline, Bryant retired after the 2015-16 season.
In November 1999, while working on his debut music album, 21-year-old Bryant met 17-year-old Vanessa Laine while she was working as a background dancer on a music project. The two began dating and became engaged six months later in May 2000. They married on April 18, 2001 at St. Edward the Confessor Catholic Church in Dana Point, California. There was no prenuptial agreement because Bryant “loved her too much for one”, according to Vanessa’s cousin Laila Laine.
Bryant’s parents and his two sisters did not attend the wedding. Neither his longtime advisor and agent Arn Tellem, nor his Laker teammates were in attendance. Bryant’s parents were opposed to the marriage for a number of reasons. Reportedly Bryant’s parents had problems with him marrying so young, especially to a woman who was not African American. This disagreement resulted in an estrangement period of over two years, which ended when the couple’s first daughter was born.
Daddy’s Little Girls…
The Bryant’s first child, Natalia, was born in January 2003. The birth resulted in reconciliation between Bryant and his parents. Their second daughter, Gianna, was born in May 2006.
On December 16, 2011, Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences, and the couple requested joint custody of their daughters. But on January 11, 2013, Bryant and his wife both announced via social media that they had called off their divorce.
In early December 2016, Vanessa gave birth to their third daughter, Bianka, and in January 2019, the Bryant’s announced they were expecting a fourth daughter. That daughter, Capri Kobe, was born in June 2019.
Sexual Assault Case…
In the summer of 2003, the sheriff’s office of Eagle, Colorado arrested Bryant in connection with the investigation of a sexual complaint filed by a 19-year-old hotel employee. Bryant had checked into The Lodge and Spa at Cordillera in Eagle County in advance of undergoing knee surgery nearby. The accuser stated that Bryant raped her in his hotel room the night before Bryant was to have the procedure. Bryant admitted to an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser, but denied her allegations.
The accusation tarnished his reputation and he lost his endorsement contracts with McDonald’s and Nutella. Sales for his replica basketball jersey fell significantly. However, in September 2004, the assault case was dropped after the accuser decided not to testify at the trial. Afterward, Bryant agreed to apologize to her for the incident. The accuser filed a separate civil lawsuit against Bryant, and the two sides settled privately, reportedly for $2.5 million.
Fatal Sunday Morning…
Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna attended church and took communion hours hours before they died. Father Steve Sallot of Our Lady Queen of Angels in Newport Beach, California, said that Kobe attended the 7 a.m. mass, the first mass of the day.
They met up with friends to attend Kobe’s basketball camp and tournament in Thousand Oaks, California.The friends included Gianna’s assistant coach John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California; his wife, Keri Altobelli; and their daughter Alyssa Altobelli. Payton Chester, a 13-year-old basketball player, her mother Sarah Chester, and Christina Mauser, a coach, were also on board. All the passengers perished.
They took off from John Wayne Santa Ana Airport in Orange County at 9:06 a.m. Ara Zobayan was the pilot and had been flying Bryant for a couple of years. He had more than 8,000 hours of flight time under his belt.
According to an audio recording obtained by CNN, Zobayan was given special clearance to operate the Sikorsky S-76 aircraft in unusually poor foggy weather conditions. He was instructed to stay at or below 2,500 feet, and in the recording, he could be heard asking air traffic controllers to provide “flight following” guidance, but is told the aircraft is too low for radar assistance.
When Air Traffic Control asked the pilot planned to do a manuever, there was no reply. Radar data indicated the helicopter climbed to 2,300 feet and then began a left descending turn. About two minutes later, at 9:47 a.m. someone on the ground called 911 to report a crash.
Authorities did not immediately release the victims’ names. TMZ was the first outlet to confirm that Bryant and his daughter were among the victims, before the families were notified by the police.
The aircraft went down in an area with very rough terrain. A total of 56 personnel, including paramedics and firefighters, responded to the crash site. The crash site was difficult to access and firefighters hiked to the area and were lowered by helicopter to extinguish the fire the crash caused to the helicopter and surrounding brush.
The World Mourns and Remembers
Tributes have poured in from around the world for Kobe Bryant. He was an American icon, whose cultural impact went far beyond the NBA.
The news brought a massive crowd to the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers. The tributes continued at the Grammy Awards at the Center, during which host Alicia Keys called the stadium “the house that Kobe built.” Keys and singing group Boys To Men sang, It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye as a tribute on the awards show.
Jimmy Kimmel devoted his entire show to Kobe Monday night. He didn’t have a studio audience as he felt that a comedy show just did’t feel right. He called Kobe’s death a “punch in the gut.” At one point Kimmel began to cry as he said Bryant was “a bright light. And that’s how I want to remember him.” He spent the rest of the show playing clips from some of the 15 times Bryant was a guest.
On his show, Jimmy Fallon choked up as he honored Kobe Bryant. They met at a party when Fallon was 21 and Bryant 17 and went on a beer run together.
ESPN honored Bryant by rerunning his final NBA game from April 13, 2016. Out of playoff contention, Kobe still scored 60 points on 50 shots and the Lakers defeated the Utah Jazz 101-96.
LeBron James, a fellow LA Laker, used Instagram to offer his condolences to Kobe Bryant’s family and Bryant himself. “I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA,” James posted. “Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have.”
Kobe was a phenomenal athlete, a brilliant mind, and the fiercest competitor to walk the earth some say. And more importantly, he was an even better father. He loved his girls and he found something more important than basketball. He discovered his purpose – fatherhood.
During an interview with ESPN’s Elle Duncan, she asked if he was disappointed when he found out his wife Vanessa was having another girl. He replied, “I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.” He said Gianna was a beast playing basketball and was better than he was at her age.
Kobe died being a dad. A girl dad. How much Kobe loved his daughters was something special. Kobe was something special.
What becomes a legend most? Those who are gone too soon?