My father can still recall it despite the passage of over 50 years. He was 9-years-old and walking home from school when a woman informed him that President Kennedy had died. My mother still vividly remembers what she was doing when she heard John Lennon was assassinated. Moments like Kennedy and Lennon’s untimely deaths remain indelible in the minds of nearly everyone who was alive at the time.
While I listened to my parents’ stories, I had never experienced one of those moments until Sunday, when I heard the shocking news that Kobe Bryant had died at 41 in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The combination of its unexpectedness and Kobe’s stature has left a nation in a state of mourning.
Kobe, first and foremost, will be remembered as a master of his craft – basketball. His father was a 76er in the late 70’s and a teammate of luminaries like Julius Erving and Darryl Dawkins. He spent most of his childhood in Italy, learning the game from polished professionals that were his fathers’ contemporaries and teammates.
Kobe returned to the United States and dominated opponents at Lower Merion High School, on Philadelphia’s wealthy Main Line, and skipped college to join the NBA’s ranks. With the Lakers, Kobe made waves immediately, winning the slam dunk contest as a rookie and eliciting comparisons to Michael Jordan. All in all, Kobe won five NBA championships, made 18 all star teams, and currently sits at fourth on the all-time scoring list. Throughout his career, he maintained his intense drive and perfectionist nature, at times alienating his teammates but always commanding the respect of opponents and the adulation of fans the world over.
Kobe’s celebrity status transcended basketball. Almost all Americans, basketball fans or not, have heard of him, much in the way non-musicians or music fans recognized Lennon, Prince, or Kurt Cobain. He achieved one name status, a rarified position that only global celebrities achieve (Beyoncé, Madonna, and Bono for example). Legions of fans mimic his fadeaway jumper and exclaim “Kobe” when shooting anything into a garbage can. His nickname, the Black Mamba, spawned the hashtag Mamba Mentality, which can be applied to anything in life worth putting 100% effort into, not just basketball. He was the rare athlete to win an Oscar, spoke multiple languages, starred in multiple documentaries about himself and even ventured into the rap game. God only knows what non-sports realms he would have conquered in retirement.
Last, but certainly not least, Kobe was an exemplary father to his four daughters, including Gianna, 13, who died alongside him in the crash. Kobe would hand out presents to his daughters and other kids before the annual Christmas Day game and nothing about it seemed false or contrived. The fact that his three daughters are without a father today is perhaps the most heart-wrenching detail in a story riddled with them.
Whether as a husband, an icon, a father, an athlete, a man, or a filmmaker, Kobe Bryant was respected by nearly everyone he came into contact with. The world is a much different place without his presence and his death, as well as incredible life, is forever ingrained into the memories of all he effected.
Matthew Collins can be reached at email@example.com.