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  • Gabe Bottazzi

January 26, 2020- The Day We Lost A Legend, RIP Kobe

Updated: Jan 27


It has been a year since the world lost basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in that tragic helicopter accident. For me, I still have not come to terms with the sad reality of Kobe no longer being with us, it will never feel real. It just defies any type of logic that someone who I grew up watching and idolizing is not among the living anymore. On that fateful day last year, it started off as a normal Sunday. It was 11am and I was getting myself ready to go out for Brunch with my friends. I recall getting out of the shower then shaving as I felt refreshed and ready to take on the day. I left my phone in my bedroom, so when I went downstairs, I heard I had a few text message notifications. When I opened up my phone my friend in our group chat said “Kobe’s dead.” Once I read those two words, I stopped what I was doing as my I felt my heart was going to beat out of my chest. I responded back to my friend saying that it must be a hoax and not real because there have been many instances of fake news being spread about Celebrities dying that are still alive. He responded by saying “Google it bro, it’s really true.” So I searched Kobe Bryant’s name through Google to see what news results pop up. Then all of a sudden, I read a headline from the Los Angeles Times saying “Kobe

Bryant dies in crash.” At that moment, the reality began to set in as I tried to rationalize one of my favorite players being killed in a tragic helicopter accident. And to make it even worse, Kobe was not the only victim, but also his young daughter Gianna and 7 other people that were onboard at the time. I began to scream, ”No Kobe, Not You Kobe.” The news was so devastating, that it did not just ruin my Sunday, but my whole week. I was not okay; I could not stop crying. In my mind, all I could think about was Kobe. Envisioning him knocking down a buzzer beater to win a game then smiling with his fists clenched. All the times he dunked over a defender or made an impossible shot when the game was on the line. He had so many amazing highlights that kept playing in my head, so every time that happened, I began to uncontrollably sob. I do not remember the last time I cried so much over anything. Over the course of my life I recall seeing tragic news stories from 9/11 to the Newtown School Shooting. Those events were sad and tragic in their own right, but the day Kobe died really took a toll on me like nothing I could imagine.

It felt like a piece of my childhood had died because Kobe was one of the main reasons why I fell in love with the game of basketball. I started following the NBA in 2006, when I was 12 years old. It was a great year to start watching basketball. There were so many likeable stars that I gravitated towards admiring the way they played from Dwyane Wade, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, to of course Kobe Bryant. What was so special about Kobe in this particular year was the sensational level that he playing at. He was virtually unstoppable on the hardwood, scoring the ball in a myriad of ways, which was so entertaining to watch. If a defender thought he knew what Kobe was going to do, Bryant would have a counter move and found a way to put the ball in the basket. He would have this determined look in his eyes; you could see the competitive fire that he played with every single time he took the floor. For the season Kobe led the league in scoring with an astounding 35 points per game. It was the highest season scoring average since MJ dropped 37 points per game 20 years earlier. Kobe had many games that season where he dropped 50 points, making it look so easy. Nothing was more impressive than on January 22nd, 2006 Kobe scored career high-81

points in a win against the Toronto Raptors. This was the second highest scoring total behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game. What was so amazing about this game was that at first Kobe did not start the game well, but once he hit his stride, there was nothing the entire Raptors team could do to stop him. He was making three pointers at will, he was dribble out of double teams, and scoring mid range fade-aways. These types of shots are difficult and normally considered bad attempts, but for Kobe that night, he was a man on a mission. The Lakers were down most of the game, but Kobe kept things close and finished the job scoring 55 in the second half alone. This type of performance is so legendary yet Kobe did not celebrate or show much emotion over the course of the game. He was so locked in embracing his “Mamba Mentality,” in order to achieve something nobody in the modern NBA has accomplished.

In the playoffs that year, the Lakers had a classic first round series against the Phoenix Suns. Point Guard Steve Nash was named MVP that season and had a formidable team with a fast-paced offense as they made it tough for Kobe and the Lakers. To this day, I can remember watching Game 4 of that series where in the final moments of regulation it looked like the Lakers were going to lose as the Suns were about to tie up the series at 2-2. Boris Diaw inbounds in the ball to Steve Nash. Out of nowhere, Lakers Point Guard Smush Parker swiped the ball out of Nash’s hands and it lands in the hands of Devean George. He proceeds to dribble the ball down the middle, passes it to Kobe, who drives in to the basket. Kobe then in the final seconds of regulation throws up a right side floater that went right above the Sun’s defender into the hoop to tie the game at the buzzer. In overtime, the Lakers found themselves down by 1 in the final seconds when somehow a jump ball was called between Steve Nash and Luke Walton. The Lakers forward used his height to his advantage to win the tip as the ball wound up in Kobe Bryant’s hands. With 4 seconds left, Kobe rushed to his spot on the court, which was the right elbow and shot a fade away jump shot over the stretched hands of two Suns defenders, swishing it as time expires. Kobe proceeds to passionately rip his arm across his

chest, screaming with celebration, then clenched his fist after winning another game in spectacular fashion. Witnessing Kobe's brilliance at such a young age truly inspired me to pursue playing basketball. I would go outside to my basketball hoop and try to replicate the moves that I seen Kobe do in a game because he was that good. Kobe had a influential effect on many aspiring basketball players who were so mesmerized by his greatness.

Kobe was no regular hooper; he transcended the game of basketball helping to heighten the awareness of the game’s popularity worldwide as a global ambassador and icon. Being born in the mid 1990’s, I was not able to witness the prime of Michael Jordan first-hand, but I will always agree with him being labeled as the G.O.A.T. There are very few athletes that can match Jordan’s championship pedigree, work ethic, and killer instinct. But one player you can make that argument for over the course of his storied 20-year career is Kobe Bryant. He was the “Air Apparent,” the second coming of Mike, and Kobe lived up to those expectations and pressures that were placed upon him, exceeding his own limits as he pushed himself to become an all-time great.

Kobe came into the NBA at right out of high school in 1996 at the age of 18. At first Kobe did not make an immediate impact coming out the gate. Lakers coach Del Harris was reluctant to play rookies over veterans so Bryant had to really make his mark once he was subbed into games. Showing flashes of radiance, Kobe turned many peoples’ heads with the various ways he made his presence known on court. He commanded the attention because he was not afraid of the moment and he seized opportunities that were given to him. Being wise beyond his years aided Kobe in his maturing process. He understood being so young meant he had to wait his turn for stardom. When his time finally came the following season, he did not look back, blooming into an All Star. At the age of 19, Kobe won

the NBA Dunk Contest with his highflying prowess and swagger. As Kobe began to improve through his tremendous work ethic, he began to mesh with his larger than life teammate Shaquille O’Neal. The Lakers had formed a solid core that had championship aspirations. They marched all the way to the Western Conference Semi Finals. In Game 5, the Lakers found themselves in a close contest with the Utah Jazz on the road. Realizing it was time to step up, a young Kobe looked to close out the game. Unfortunately, this did not go according to plan as Kobe proceeds to shoot 4 consecutive air balls down the stretch, which cost the Lakers the game and the series. It was a very low moment for Kobe in his career, but he was not discouraged.

Kobe utilized his playoff disappointments as fuel going forward in his career. This is when the “Mamba Mentality,” really came into effect for Kobe. The dedication and passion that he had towards his craft was so rare that he chose to isolate himself and make sacrifices in order to get better as a basketball player. According to his early teammates, Kobe was not much of a socializer as he obsessed on putting in extra reps at the gym, or arduously working on a new move for hours. He would wake up as early as 2 am to workout and then later on train at various times throughout the day. His drive was unmatched, as his idea of getting ahead of the competition while they were sleeping started to really pay off. Kobe’s obsession to be great was something only the legendary players like Jordan, Magic, and Bird possessed. In 2000, his incredible training was beginning to come to fruition as the Lakers faced the Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals. Going against legendary sharpshooter Reggie Miller, Kobe had a tough task to attend with, but he took it all head on. Shaq was the primary scorer for the Lakers with Kobe playing second fiddle, but that soon changed in Game 4 when O’Neal got in foul trouble early. Kobe missed the previous

two Finals games after spraining his ankle, but managed to fight through the pain to play 47 out of the 53 minutes. He scored 28 points, including clutch baskets down the stretch to seal the game in overtime as the Lakers went on to win the championship in 6 games.

Winning a ring at 21 solidified Kobe as a top tier player in the NBA. But Kobe was not content on just winning one championship. His idol Michael Jordan had 5 championships. Kobe knew he must win multiple rings to validate himself as a legend in the game. So what the Lakers went on to do for the next two NBA seasons came to the surprise of many, but Kobe. The Lakers won two more titles in 2001 and 2002 beating the 76ers then the Nets in the Finals with ease. Shaq and Kobe formed a dominant dynasty and one of the best dynamic duos of all time. During the Lakers “Three Peat,” Kobe and Shaq played on the same page in the triangle offense under legendary coach Phil Jackson. Playing within a trusted system served the duo well as the Lakers had dominance on the perimeter with Kobe and in the paint with Shaq. The team chemistry changed the following season as the two alpha stars began to feud in the media.

Kobe claimed Shaq was not working hard enough and that he was out of shape, so of course, O’Neal takes offense. This brewed controversy, both were public slandering each other and as a result, it took a toll on the team's morale. Even with the acquisitions of future Hall of Famers, Gary Payton and Karl Malone, it was still not enough for the Lakers to overcome the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 Finals. The Lakers inability to mesh as a team cost them a chance to win their 4th title in a row. The animosity between Kobe and Shaq ruined their hopes of winning countless rings. Shaq eventually gets traded to the Heat where in 2006; he won a title with Dwyane Wade.

For the next few seasons, Kobe was still playing on a high level, scoring insurmountable amounts of points every game and doing at least one thing a night that would wow the crowd in attendance. Even with all the impressive accolades, Kobe was unable to carry the Lakers back to the promise land. Critics were skeptical if Kobe was able to lead a team to a title without the help of Shaq. There were reports that stated Kobe having the desire to play elsewhere. Who could blame him after the heavy scoring burden he had to withhold on a daily basis because role players like Smush Parker and Kwame Brown could not get the job done as reliable teammates. In 2008, things began to change for the better, when the Lakers were able to obtain star big man Pau Gasol from the Memphis Grizzlies. Kobe finally found his Robin and the team had other pieces that suited well for him in their system from Lamar Odom to Derek Fisher. That season, the Lakers made it to the NBA Finals where

their rival Boston Celtics defeated them in 6 games. In Game 6, the Lakers lost by 38 points, one of the worst losses in Kobe’s career. Like when he shot air balls in the playoffs as a teenager, Kobe used the loss to Boston as motivation going into the following season. During that time, he began developing a strong on-court connection with Pau Gasol as the Lakers beat out some tough Western Conference opponents to reach the NBA Finals once again. This go around, the Lakers went up against Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. Kobe and Gasol combined to average 50 points a game as Los Angeles put away Orlando in only 5 games. Kobe did what he set out to do, winning a title without Shaq and got the Finals MVP trophy in the process. The following year, Kobe got his revenge in the Finals against the Boston Celtics. The Lakers won a dramatic 7 game series to garner their second consecutive NBA championship. Kobe averaged 28 points for the

series and was named the Finals MVP once again. This championship was his 5th overall which was only 1 less than Michael Jordan. It seemed that Kobe was closing in on MJ as his eyes locked in on another ring that would put him in the same conversation as MJ. This however, never came to happen. Kobe tried to replicate what his championships teams did in 2000’s, but the 2010’s brought not a lot of winning for Kobe. After winning in 2010, the Lakers were still a playoff team, but were unable to execute enough to get back in the NBA Finals.

Kobe was still doing his dazzling things on the court, but the Lakers slowly fell back into mediocrity. In April of the 2013 season, Kobe tore his Achilles late in a game. This is considered one of the most devastating injuries that a basketball player can go through. Instead of calling for help and asking for assistance to walk, Kobe toughs it out and calmly sinks two free throws on his torn Achilles. There are very few people on this planet that could have done that, but Kobe is so mentally tough that he fought through the

pain to knock down those free throws knowingly realizing the severity of his injury.

Once healed, Kobe was not the same when he came back because it was difficult for him to stay healthy. He played only 41 games in the next two seasons. As a result, Kobe announced that the 2015-2016 NBA season was to be his last. It became a farewell tour where we as the fans got to see the more vulnerable side of Kobe. He would show more emotion playing in NBA arenas for the final time. After each game that year, all the players that looked up to him would approach Kobe in hopes of switching jerseys with him. That became the recurring theme throughout that final season where fans got to show their appreciation and love for Kobe and what he means to the game. In years past, opposing fans would boo Kobe because they knew how much of a threat he was on the floor for the opposition. It took until his final season for the fans and players to give him his flowers that were well deserved over a long and storied 20-year career. The league’s second all-time leading point scorer (at the time) had his final NBA game on April 13th, 2016 at home against the Utah Jazz. In front of a star-studded crowd and former teammates, Kobe made his final game one for the ages. Before the game Shaq jokingly told Kobe to go for 50, little did he know that

Kobe would score an unbelievable 60 points in a Lakers win. The game started out slow for Kobe who did not make his shots right away. Eventually, he found his rhythm and got back into his old superstar form. He took 50 shots over the course of the game and made 22 of them. What was so amazing about his final time on the hardwood was how he finished it off in style. The Lakers were down by 1 with 40 seconds left. Kobe brings the ball up the court and calmly gets to his spot on the right side and drains the go-ahead bucket with 30 seconds remaining, putting the Lakers up for good. The Staples Center crowd roared with excitement, amazed of what Kobe did to cap off his career in historic fashion.

It was a very emotional post game with Kobe speaking to the crowd, finishing with his famous saying, “Mamba Out.” What Kobe did in his last professional game was the stuff of legend. He left his mark on the game’s new generation aspiring others to follow his championship pedigree and idea of being consistently productive. His legacy is comprised of many years of overcoming adversity then turning it into a career filled with excellence through his tenacious drive to be the best. In my opinion, Kobe is a top 5 basketball player ever and I feel like a lot of people would agree with my position. His resume speaks for itself. After his playing days, Kobe embraced retirement, enjoying the father role for his daughters' lives. He emphasized spending time with his family because back when he was playing it was tough for him to find family time. Kobe made money moves off the court winning an Academy Award for his short animated film, “ Dear Basketball,” which

he was an executive producer for. It’s mind-boggling to fathom how Kobe went from winning championships on the court to winning an Oscar in film. It just exemplifies how brilliant of a mind Kobe had. While his basketball IQ was high, so overall intelligence was off the chart as he could speak multiple languages. Kobe loved learning new things. It was something that kept him going as he looked to be the best at anything he did. He began coaching his daughter Gianna in basketball, training her to be a skilled all around player. Kobe started a sports academy called the Mamba Academy that became a great youth recreational center where Gianna played her AAU games.

What makes Kobe’s story so much sadder is that the day that he passed away, he was on the helicopter with his daughter Gigi and some of her teammates and their parents. It was a foggy Sunday in California in which Kobe’s team was on route to play an AAU game

nearby. Unfortunately, the fog conditions were too severe as the pilot lost control of the helicopter, crashing in Calabasas. I do not even want to imagine the final moments that

Kobe must have had with his daughter, being the great father that he was, reassuring her that everything was going to be okay till the end. It makes no sense or logic how such a beloved sports figure could meet such a tragic end. But Kobe Bryant will forever be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever touch a basketball. His legacy and impact will live on forever as the Mamba Mentality is in all of us. It is possible for us as humans to reach new heights we never thought were attainable. All you need is passion, discipline, and a focus to be great. All qualities the late Kobe Bryant possessed. He is a legend and will never see anyone like him ever again. Rest in peace to Kobe Bryant and all of the passengers on the helicopter on that fateful day. January 26, 2020.


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