A year has passed since Kobe Bryant’s passing, but neither the NBA nor the sports world as a whole has fully recovered from the void left by the death of the star, a basketball legend whose charisma extended far beyond the court.
Bryant, who died on January 26, 2020, at the age of 41 in Calabasas, California in a helicopter crash that killed eight other people (including his daughter Gianna), was the fourth all-time leading scorer in the NBA (33,643 points) and an eternal legend of the Los Angeles Lakers, with whom he won multiple trophies.
But aside from statistics, he was a fierce competitor, an almost strenuous example of effort, an emblem for Los Angeles (with a very special connection to its Latino community), and a person so ambitious that he became the first former professional athlete to win an Oscar (for the animated short film Dear Basketball, 2017).
The shock after Kobe’s accident
After so many months of pandemic and suffering all over the planet, it is hard to remember and gauge the enormous shock caused by the news of Bryant’s death. However, it is fair to say that America came to a standstill for a moment on the morning of January 26th.
Just before noon, the celebrity news outlet TMZ issued an alert stating that the player had died, news that, after a few minutes of bewilderment and astonishment among the rest of the media and the authorities, weas confirmed.
Shortly after, the area around the Staples Center, the stadium where Bryant played with the Lakers, became the center of an impromptu tribute by fans who still could not believe what had happened.T-shirts with the numbers 8 and 24, posters with Kobe’s name, flowers with the colors purple and gold.
His fans mourned the tragedy with everything they had at hand while, just a few hundred meters away, the news of his death was spreading on the red carpet of the Grammy Awards, which were being held that very day at the Staples Center.
“Los Angeles, America, and the entire world lost a hero today,” said Alicia Keys, the Grammy host, at the start of a gala marked from beginning to end by the memory of Bryant.
Another image that perfectly summed up the great sadness of the day was that of LeBron James: in tears on the runway at LAX, seeking comfort in hugs, one star mourning another star.
Tributes to his legacy
Over the past 12 months, the NBA has poured itself into remembering one of the most lethal shooters basketball has ever seen and elevating Bryant’s legacy on and off the court.
“In basketball, in life, as a father, Kobe didn’t hold anything back -he gave it his all,” assured a tearful Michael Jordan at the packed tribute in Los Angeles in February.
“You left too soon when your next chapter in life was just beginning, but now it’s our time to carry on your legacy,” said Shaquille O’Neal.
Yet it was perhaps another former teammate, Pau Gasol, who best embodied over the months the devastation at the loss of not just a sporting titan, but a close friend.
“He inspired me on a day-to-day basis: his work ethic, his dedication to being the best, to demanding that teammates give their best, that little bit of a killer instinct, that ‘the Mamba’ mentality,” he told EFE in February. “It was a huge experience that made me grow as a player and gave me a different perspective as a person.”
Outside the strictly sporting environment, the most memorable outpouring of love for Kobe took place in Los Angeles, where, almost overnight, dozens and dozens of street murals appeared to commerorate the Lakers idol.
The causes of the accident that took Bryant’s life have been a matter of discussion with no definitive conclusion as of yet. Yet on February 9th, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will announce its findings after a lengthy investigation.
So far, the existence of fog where the helicopter crashed, a hilly area in Los Angeles, has been the most likely hypothesis as to the cause of the accident. Meanwhile, the player’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, has sued the helicopter company for alleged negligence in the death of her husband.
Vanessa has also continued to fight in court with another lawsuit, this time against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office after news reports surfaced that some deputies took photos of the accident with their personal cell phones and then shared them online.