I started getting into basketball in 2007. I was seven years old. The 2007-08 NBA season was the first season where my dad started taking me to Raptors games, back when upper bowl seats were $12.50 and the team was awful. I got him to buy me a copy of NBA Live 08 for our big, clunky PC and I began to follow — to the extent that a seven-year-old could — what would soon become my favourite sport.
Kobe Bryant won the MVP that season. He won championships and Finals MVP in each of the next two. Safe to say he made a strong first impression on me.
I was lucky enough to see Kobe play in person three times; the first was in 2010. At this point I probably didn’t know who Michael Jordan was, so in my mind, little 10-year-old me is thinking he’s watching the greatest basketball player ever. And of course he was amazing and the Lakers won; I think we had like Linas Kleiza guarding him.
The second time I saw Kobe in person was on February 12, 2012. I still have the ticket stub. The Raptors were up by one with seven seconds left. The Lakers inbounded the ball to Kobe. He faked out James Johnson with a cut away from the hoop and caught the ball infront of the Raptors bench.
One dribble pull.
Lakers win 94-92.
In 2016-17, I did my high school co-op at MLSE and worked in what was then the Air Canada Centre for 10 months. That was the year after Toronto had hosted All-Star Weekend, so naturally there was still a ton of leftovers from the mega-event throughout the arena. My boss, who knew that I was a big basketball fan, gave me the towel that Kobe used during what was his final All-Star game. He had kept it in his office since the game. Kind of gross, but kind of cool, too. It’s folded in my closet right now.
Kobe, perhaps more so than any other athlete, had this aura around him that is just hard to put into words. Maybe that’s why the timing of this is especially eerie: just 18 hours or so before that fatal helicopter crash, the NBA world was focused on Kobe, as LeBron James had just passed him on the all-time scoring list. Kobe sent out a congratulatory tweet to LeBron shortly after. What’s more is that LeBron passed Kobe in his hometown of Philadelphia and had written ‘Mamba 4 Life’ on his shoes. Not even a day later, the shoes have an entirely different meaning.
There was no one who worked harder than Kobe. Nobody tougher. From playing in the Finals with broken fingers on his shooting hand, fracturing his kneecap and finishing the quarter, to tearing his Achilles, only to stand up, hit two game-winning free throws and then walk off the court on his own at age 34.
The on-court resumé is well documented, from his five championships, his MVP season, countless All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Star appearances, his 81-point game against Toronto, his 62-point game in three quarters, to ending his career with a 60-point game in 2016.
His post-playing career was just another incredible part of his legacy; winning an Oscar, writing books, opening up a state-of-the-art sports facility for young athletes to train, to the countless workouts and camps that he has put on for so many current NBA superstars. But what I’m sure he was most proud of was coaching his daughter’s travel basketball team.
His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, followed in her father’s footsteps. She was also in the fatal crash Sunday morning. The two of them were on their way to one of her games, along with seven others. She wanted to go to UConn. She wanted to play in the WNBA. Kobe was such an advocate for the WNBA and women’s basketball as a whole. He would consistently sit courtside with Gianna at games. There’s a snippet that is now re-circulating around the internet, of the two of them sitting courtside at a Nets game last month, breaking down the game and laughing.
What was then a touching moment between father and daughter is now a lasting memory.
As is the clip from an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where Kobe explains that fans will come up to him and say that he has to have a son who can carry on his legacy, only for Gianna to interrupt and say ‘I’ve got this’.
The Raptors and the Spurs honoured Bryant when each team ran out the 24-second shot clock — Kobe’s jersey number — during each team’s first possession of the game. Every other team who played on Sunday did the same. Some teams took an 8-second backcourt violation, the other number Kobe wore in his career.
It’s one of those deaths that isn’t fathomable. Especially given how involved he was in the previous night’s NBA action, but also because Kobe was one of those people who seemed invincible. It doesn’t seem real.
It’s a hard one to comprehend.