One Year Later: Remembering Kobe Bryant’s Legacy

Artwork by Jude Pizzone ’21

By Andrew Donnelly ’20

On January 26, 2020, basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The two were on their way to Gianna’s basketball game; she dreamed of following in the footsteps of her famous father. Nicknamed “Black Mamba,” Kobe was only 41 years old when he passed, and his daughter just 13.

Bryant, a devout Catholic, attended an early morning Mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in Newport Beach, California just before he and his daughter left for Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks. Although Kobe Bryant so tragically perished, his inspirational legacy will live on for generations to come.

The legend of Kobe Bean Bryant began with his graduation from Lower Merion High School, located in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. That very spring, with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA draft, the Charlotte Hornets selected Bryant before immediately trading him to the Los Angeles Lakers. 

In his first year as a pro, Kobe Bryant won the slam dunk contest with a sensational through-the-legs jam. Soon after, at the age of 19, Bryant became the youngest player to ever start in an NBA All-Star Game.

Kobe had achieved more as a teenager than most players do in their entire careers.

In the coming seasons, Bryant and Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal would combine to form one of the most dominant duos in NBA history. From the years 2000 through 2002, the stars secured the elusive “three-peat,” winning three NBA Finals matchups in a row. The two stars developed remarkable chemistry on the hardwood; however, the same could not be said in their personal lives. The two had several disagreements that they could not overcome, and as tensions reached a boiling point, Shaq journeyed across the country and joined the Miami Heat. 

At this juncture in Kobe’s career, basketball fans were uncertain whether or not he would ever return to the NBA Finals. Critics doubted that he could succeed on a team on which he was the sole, undisputed leader.

He quickly extinguished such speculation in his subsequent seasons with L.A., leading the NBA in scoring each of the next two seasons and cementing his name in basketball history with an 81-point game in 2006. This remains the second-highest individual scoring performance of all time. In 2008, he added an MVP award to his list of accolades. Much to the chagrin of his critics, the Black Mamba was ready to once again claim the NBA title as his own.

In 2009 and 2010, Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to two more NBA championships. With the help of teammates Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher, Bryant’s Lakers were the apex predators of the league.

The Lakers’ 2010 Finals win over the Boston Celtics marked the final time Kobe Bryant would raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but Mamba continued to serve as an integral cog in the NBA machine for the remainder of his career. However, after sustaining a torn Achilles in 2013 and another tear – this time to his rotator cuff in 2015 – it came as no surprise that on April 13, 2016, Kobe played his last professional game. In his career finale, the hardwood legend put up an astonishing 60 points, leading his team to a sensational comeback victory.

At the end of his career, Kobe had been selected to play in 18 All-Star Games, earned four All-Star Game MVP awards, won five NBA Championships, an MVP award, and is currently the fourth-highest scorer in NBA history. Both of his jersey numbers, 8 and 24, were retired by the Los Angeles Lakers, and the number 24 was also retired by the Dallas Mavericks as a gesture of respect and admiration in the wake of his passing. Additionally, the All-Star MVP trophy was renamed the Kobe Bryant MVP Award.

Kobe’s legacy did not end with his godly skills on the court. The promise and dedication that he displayed in his retirement is part of what made his death so tragic.

Kobe Bryant truly loved his post-NBA life. He spent much of his time mentoring others and attending to the needs of his wife and daughters. Kobe appeared on “Chris and Caron,” a Fox Sports radio show, and said the following regarding his retirement:

“It’s actually better than I dreamed or imagined it would be,” he said, adding, “I’m loving every minute of it.”

Shortly after his retirement, Kobe won another trophy, this time adding an Oscar to his collection as a result of his critically-acclaimed, poignant, animated short film, “Dear Basketball.”

The death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna left fans across the nation shuffling for answers. To some, the effects of his legacy are as simple – perhaps as simple as hearing someone yell “Kobe” whenever they throw up a fadeaway jump shot. To others, his life continues to serve as an inspiration – the epitome of the power of effort and an undying will to succeed.

This too is a fitting legacy for Kobe, a man who famously said, “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great in whatever they want to do.”

Click here to read John Kurkjian’s memories of Kobe, originally published February 6, 2019.