Kobe Bryant death leaves complicated legacy

Image by Liv Nicks-Turnley

On Jan. 26, the sports world came to a screeching halt when news broke that legendary Los Angeles Lakers basketball player Kobe Bryant, 41, was killed in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant nicknamed Gigi, and seven others. Among those victims were two members of Gianna’s basketball team: Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. The team called the Mambas, in honor of Kobe Bryant’s nickname “Black Mamba”, was created, funded and coached by Bryant himself. The helicopter was headed towards one of their basketball games. The way in which Bryant emphasized fatherhood and growing the women’s game for the sake of his daughter is just one of the indelible marks he left on the game of basketball and the world.

Kobe Bryant retired with one of the most historic and basketball careers the National Basketball Association (NBA) has ever seen. He finished his career with five NBA championships, two Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards in finals, one regular-season MVP award, and 15 All-Star selections. He currently owns the record of fourth-most points ever scored in NBA history after being passed by current Los Angeles player Lebron James just hours before his death. 

Perhaps his biggest impact on the NBA, however, was the influence he had on the next generation and the way he pushed all of his competitors to another level. As soon as his death was announced, there was an outpouring of support from a clearly heartbroken community. Players such as the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lebron James and Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid all commented about how they would not be in the NBA today if not for Bryant’s example. They all lauded his incredible work ethic and claimed they modeled their own games and preparation after his example. In fact, Bryant was nicknamed “Black Mamba” after the snake that is characterized for its relentless aggression and pinpoint accuracy. 

Even after retirement, Bryant continued to preach these ideals of toughness and relentless effort. He continued to come to basketball games and launched the Mamba Academy, which is a fitness center dedicated to basketball training. He also personally trained several rising stars such as Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics who is now on track to become an all-star in the next few years. He launched an ESPN show called “Details” in which he broke down the games of current NBA players and told them how they could improve their game. Through these actions, he solidified himself as one of the smartest minds basketball has ever seen.

Despite his amazing success and impact on the court, it is important to note that Bryant was not without flaws throughout his life. Following his death, the overflow of tributes and canonization of Bryant does present a moral issue. While it is fine to recognize the greatness of his career and even his contributions to the business world, it should not be forgotten that Kobe was accused of rape in 2003 by a 19-year-old girl. The case was eventually dropped because the accuser refused to testify, and the world seemed to forget it. More than ever, it is crucial to recognize that not even someone as worshiped as Bryant should be excused from punishment for this alleged crime. 

In the most recent years before his death, Bryant had become a business mogul, an Oscar winner for his poem “Dear Basketball” and had appeared to dedicate his life to his family. Bryant’s impact on the basketball world can best be seen through his constant support for the women’s game and his dedication to the late Gianna Bryant’s own game. He could not have been more complimentary of GiGi’s skills and often said that she was better than he was at age 13. Gianna Bryant also showed a deep ambition for achieving greatness in basketball. She dreamed of playing for the esteemed University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team before entering the Women’s NBA. Kobe and GiGi Bryant were often found sitting court-side at Lakers games wearing a variety of UCONN and WNBA apparel. While many people joked about how desperate he must have been for a son, Bryant was often heard vehemently dismissing this and claiming that Gianna was just as fit to carry on his legacy. It is undeniable that Bryant would have wanted the rest of the world to continue to do whatever it takes to legitimize and grow women’s basketball. 

Kobe Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa Bryant and three other daughters, Natalia, Capri and Bianka. His basketball playing style can be seen in almost every superstar in the league today. Although  Bryant is no longer with us, his impact on basketball will continue through the blueprint of excellence he passed down to so many. 

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