Kobe Bryant passed away at age 41 on Sunday, but his legacy will live on.
A star fell out of the sky on a foggy Sunday morning, leaving a world stunned by the loss of one of the fiercest competitors to ever play the game of basketball. He was polarizing and authentic; resilient yet deeply flawed. The world won’t soon forget the complicated legacy of Kobe Bryant.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were en route to AAU practice in Thousand Oaks, California when their helicopter went down in Calabasas, leaving no survivors. Also killed in the crash were Gianna’s teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester; their parents John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, and Sarah Chester; assistant coach Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan. Three families on their way to enjoy a day of youth basketball, and nine lives cut tragically short before they had the chance to land.
Kobe Bryant was not a perfect man, but he was a damn near perfect player. Known for his pinpoint-accurate jump shot and his consistently clutch performances, Bryant was often compared to Michael Jordan over the course of his 20-year career. He was a tireless believer in the power of hard work, fueled by the drive to compete that played a key role in winning five Laker championships during his tenure
He burst onto the scene in 1996 as a brash teenager fresh out of high school and quickly created a reputation for himself as a cocky kid with enough natural talent to sink shots he shouldn’t have taken. As he matured on and off the court, Bryant went on to become a respected teammate and eventually a valued mentor to younger players in both the NBA and WNBA.
After his retirement in 2016, Bryant transitioned into another role that seemed to suit him perfectly: hoop dad. Though he showed little interest in coaching professionally, he was more than happy to mentor his basketball-loving girls and their peers through the Mamba Sports Academy. Youth basketball became a key part of Kobe’s post-NBA life, and he was palpably enthusiastic about teaching younger generations to play the game he loved.
As admired and respected as Kobe was, he wasn’t without his demons. Bryant was credibly accused of sexual assault in 2003 by a 19-year-old Colorado hotel employee. His accuser dropped the case after her identity was leaked to the press, and the two legal teams reached a court settlement without going to trial.
“I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did,” said Bryant in a statement after the case was dropped. “After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”
To gloss over the messy parts of Kobe Bryant’s legacy would be a disservice to the work he put into his own personal growth. Whether he deserved it or not, Bryant understood that he had been dealt a second chance and took care not to squander it. He committed to being a better husband to his wife Vanessa, with whom he went on to have four beautiful daughters. He put his money where his mouth was; for the rest of his life, Bryant made it a point to hire women throughout all of his business ventures and was an ardent supporter of professional women’s basketball. He made good on his promise to do better, and never wavered when it came to supporting women throughout the rest of his life.
Bryant passed his love of the game to his daughters, especially his second-born Gianna (often called Gigi). Competitive and passionate like her father, Gigi had her sights set on playing for the University of Connecticut and eventually the WNBA. She was determined to pick up the reins where her dad had left off and was already putting in the work needed to achieve greatness when her life was cut tragically short.
Kobe Bryant was an icon and a great basketball player, but most importantly, he was a person. He made mistakes and grew from the fallout. He worked every day to be better than he was yesterday, both on and off the court. He was a loving father, a devoted husband, a scholar of life, and one of the most influential athletes of his time. He touched countless lives and inspired those around him to work hard and be better.
For better or for worse, the world was a richer place with Kobe Bryant in it.
For more thoughts and opinions from Whitney McKinnon, check out her author page.
Image source: CBS Sports, Elle, Heavy.com, People