By Will Sohn
It has been almost one month since the tragic death of former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant. On January 26th, a helicopter accident claimed nine lives including: Kobe Bryant (41), his daughter Gianna (13), Alyssa Altobelli (14), Keri Altobelli (46), John Altobelli (56), Payton Chester (13), Sarah Chester (45), Christina Mauser (38), and the pilot, Ara Zobayan (50). Such an unexpected death left the world shocked. A Philly native himself, the “black mamba” left his mark on and off the basketball court.
Bryant had a spectacular high school career at Lower Merion High School, located in the Philadelphia Suburbs. As a 17-year old in 1996, Bryant declared for the NBA draft. The decision to go pro out of high school was uncommon at the time and met with skepticism.
Now, 25 years later, many consider Bryant among the top ten players in NBA history. He played his entire 20-year professional basketball career for the Los Angeles Lakers. His career accomplishments include five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, one League MVP award, and 18 All Star game selections.
Even off the court Bryant inspired others. He is quoted as saying, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.”
Following his retirement in 2016, Bryant published his first book The Mamba Mentality: How I Play. In 2018, he won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his film Dear Basketball. He also became the first African-American to win the Academy Award for that category and the first former professional athlete to be nominated and to win an Academy Award in any category.
Bryant always tried new things and pushed himself and others to do so. Along with his wife, he founded the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation, which is a public charity dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need. He also founded the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, which is focused on creating a positive impact through sports. In fact, Bryant was taking his daughter to the Mamba Sports Academy when the accident occurred.
Bryant’s death received a huge, immediate reaction from celebrities all around the world including NBA star LeBron James, former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and talk-show host Jimmy Fallon. On the day of the accident, Los Angeles Lakers fans gathered outside the Staples Center to honor him and made a makeshift memorial with jerseys, flowers, candles, and other symbols.
Large events like Superbowl LIV later paid tribute as well. In fact, the NBA All-Star game this past Sunday seemed like one long tribute to Bryant: Team LeBron all wore number 2 for Gianna, Team Giannis wore number 24 for Bryant, the All Star MVP Award was permanently renamed the NBA All Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award, and the format of the game changed so that they will aim for a final score of plus-24 in the fourth quarter.
In addition to the public outpourings of support, his family held a private funeral on February 7th. A public memorial service will take place outside Staples Center on February 24th.
Even though he stands as one of the most accomplished players of all time, Bryant’s impact extends past basketball. His “mamba mentality” inspires people to better themselves everyday through hard work and perseverance. As an athlete, businessman, philanthropist, and father, Bryant’s legacy lives on around the world. He is a legend to never be forgotten.