By: John Kurkjian ‘20
On Sunday, January 26, 2020, the world mourned the loss of an admirable icon when a helicopter carrying former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers crashed into the hillside in Calabasas, California. At the time of the crash, Bryant was enjoying retirement as the coach of his daughter’s basketball team, and was traveling to his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California for a game that morning. Bryant’s shocking and tragic death was followed by an outpouring of love and support from people across the world, and the creation of a memorial around the Staples Center, the home arena for the Lakers.
Bryant’s illustrious twenty-year career began upon his selection in the 1996 NBA draft, when Bryant came directly out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania. Bryant was drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets and was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in exchange for center Vlade Divac. Bryant later stated that he was told the Hornets had “no use” for him, and as a result, he was traded.
Bryant began his career in the 1996-1997 season with the Lakers alongside all-time great center Shaquille O’Neal after General Manager Jerry West signed him to a seven year, $121 million deal as a free agent. Bryant was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team that season and became the youngest player to ever play in an NBA game at 18 years and 72 days. Additionally, he became the youngest player to ever win an NBA Dunk Contest. The following season, Bryant began to emerge as a rising star. He became the youngest All-Star game starter in NBA history. Bryant continued his career with O’Neal as the deadliest duo in the NBA, winning three NBA championships. Due to turmoil between teammates, however, the Lakers would soon opt for a trade sending O’Neal to the Heat.
After the various accolades he achieved alongside O’Neal, Bryant was doubted by the media and fans—many assumed that O’Neal was primarily responsible for the team’s success. Despite criticism, Kobe continued his intense work ethic until he guided the Lakers to back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010 alongside legendary head coach Phil Jackson. Bryant was named Finals MVP in both 2009 and 2010. By the end of his career, Bryant was a five-time NBA Champion, one-time MVP, two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and was named to the All-Star game in eighteen of his twenty years in the league.
Bryant memorably ended his career in 2016 on a high note, scoring 61 points at the Staples Center against the Utah Jazz on April 17. Bryant had both his No. 8 and No. 24 jerseys retired in a ceremony at the Staples Center in December 2017.
As an athlete, Bryant was known for his insanely dedicated work ethic. Kobe never settled for mediocrity. Bryant would even workout in the waning hours of the night, and was known for keeping this intensity even after he retired. Current Georgetown Head Coach, NBA legend, and former Orlando Magic assistant coach Patrick Ewing referenced Bryant’s dedication in an interview one day when Kobe was visiting Disney World with his family. Not wanting to miss any time with his daughters and wife, Bryant called Ewing and asked if he was allowed to use the Magic’s facilities for a workout. Shocked, Ewing agreed, allowing Bryant to work as long as no Magic players were present. Knowing this, Bryant went to work out at 2 a.m. and returned to Disney World before his family woke up for the day. In a video on YouTube, Alan Stein Jr. also offered a perspective on Kobe’s intensity. Stein referenced a time when he served as a camp counselor at Bryant’s Nike Academy in 2007, and requested to view one of Kobe’s private workouts. Bryant graciously agreed, and told Stein his workout began at 4 A.M. In an effort to impress Kobe, Stein showed up to the gym at 3:30, only to find Bryant already in a full sweat during a pre-workout shooting session by himself.
Kobe Bryant represented what it truly means to be a competitor. On the court, he was gritty, scrappy, determined, and relentless. He transcended basketball and shared his love for life and basketball with others.
Rest In Peace to one of the greatest basketball players to ever step on the court.