Kobe Bean Bryant died today at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. They were en route to a youth basketball tournament.
Kobe was a generational basketball talent with a hoops résumé all his own: 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, an MVP, a five-time world champion, an 18-time All-Star, and a cutthroat clutch performer. Playing for the league’s most legendary franchise, Kobe was named by none other than “Mr. Laker,” Magic Johnson, as the greatest to ever play for the team. Beyond that, his workout regimens were the stuff of legend. No one worked harder, no one was more intense, no one was more dialed-in than Kobe Bryant. This was why people called him “The Black Mamba.” A friend of mine who played on the Lakers with Kobe loves telling the story of seeing the team captain on the court for hours before a game, without a basketball in his hands, just practicing his footwork, playing against shadows.
The shock that accompanies Kobe’s death cannot be overstated. People throughout the basketball world and beyond took to social media to share their grief. It was a collective tidal wave of sadness that along with the news itself was enough to knock the wind out of you.
His former running mate Shaquille O’Neal—at times big brother and at times bitter rival—took to Twitter to write: “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW.”
There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of loosing my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW pic.twitter.com/pigHywq3c1
—SHAQ (@SHAQ) January 26, 2020
In San Antonio, there was talk of canceling the game. Instead, during the first two possessions, the teams let the two 24-second shot clocks run out (for Kobe’s number 24) as the fans chanted “Kobe!” for several solid minutes.
In addition, the National Basketball Players Association said in a statement:
We are stunned and saddened by the news of the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant. Words cannot express his impact on our Players, the NBA and the game of basketball. This is a monumental loss for the entire basketball community and our hearts are quite simply broken. We send love and prayers out to his wife Vanessa and the entire family.
One reason that it seemed so unreal is that Kobe was such a continual cultural presence even after his retirement three and a half years ago. He was just in the news earlier this weekend as LeBron James passed him for third on the all-time scoring list. LeBron has written Kobe’s two playing numbers, 8 and 24, on his sneakers. Also written were the words, “Mamba 4 Life.”
He won an Oscar in 2018 for an animated film short about his love for basketball. He also had plans to be an entertainment mogul in the years to come. He wasn’t going to hang out on the set of NBA shows. He was going to have a second act and be more than an athlete.
That’s what seemed to lie beneath the tears of NBA players: Kobe was more than just an icon. He also had the potential to blaze new trails that they would be able to walk.
My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone. It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players. pic.twitter.com/NXsrXmCkkG
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 26, 2020
Kobe’s death has already renewed discussion of his complex legacy, particularly regarding when he was accused of rape in Colorado in 2003. After he was charged with sexual assault, the case never went to trial because Kobe’s accuser in 2004 informed the court that she would not testify.
The accuser had a civil suit against Bryant that was settled out of court in 2005.
For now, there will be mourning. The Staples Center, which Kobe called home for two decades, will undoubtedly temporarily transform into the scene of a wake. People will cry and remember, and those who suffer in their way through the coming days will be in numbers far beyond the world of basketball.
This post has been updated.