I am tore up typing this. Kobe Bryant is dead at the age of 41 as he died in a tragic helicopter accident in the Los Angeles area near Calabasas. Reports say his daughter Gianna—Gi-Gi—was also on the plane. The report was first broken by TMZ.
[Editor’s Note: It has come to our attention that the LA County Sheriff told the media that TMZ reported Kobe’s death before his family had been notified by authorities. As a result, we will not be linking their reporting in this post and will instead rely upon the LA Times report.]
Kobe Bryant, 41, the legendary basketball star who spent 20 years with the Lakers, was killed when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed and burst into flames Sunday morning amid foggy conditions in the hills above Calabasas, sources told the Los Angeles Times.
His daughter Gianna, 13, was also on board, NBA authorities confirmed.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said nine people were on the copter — a pilot and eight passengers. He would not confirm who had died until all the next of kin have been notified, he said.
As a father I’m broke up. I think of losing my girl and not getting to see her grow up. As a husband, I well up with tears at the thought of having my time cut short with my wife. As a basketball fan I’m destroyed. Kobe was one of the first stars that I saw from the time he was drafted to retirement. Hell, he’s only 6 years older than me. All of a sudden 41 doesn’t seem that old anymore. This is a tragedy.
Trying to put into words what Kobe meant for Jazz fans feels overwhelming. Kobe was synonymous with a curse word in Utah when he played. He represented our heartbreak, our losses, and our ultimate goal. He was a winner. He won on the highest stage in the most tense of basketball situations. We hated him because we wanted a player like him that could bring our small market franchise in the Wasatch front a championship.
Kobe was masterful, insanely skilled, and athletically gifted. But his drive to win—the refusal to lose—created jealousy among Jazz fan ranks and inspired admiration. Our best players seemed to be the logical foil for players like him. He could outplay and outsmart anyone on the court. We jeered him in the only way we could—at his lack of efficiency—because even the most skillfully crafted armor has a flaw. But that armor did what it was supposed to do, win battles and build empires. Jazz fans have watched the Lakers—powered by Kobe Bryant—build dynasties while hope to see our players on Buzzfeed and Bleacher Report listicles of the NBA’s “Best Players to never win a championship.” Kobe’s will would never allow him to wind up on that title. His dips in efficiency were the sacrificial offerings that he put on the altar to win championships.
We despised Kobe because we wanted a Kobe of our own. A guy who saw the clock winding down in the 4th quarter and saw himself as his team’s champion. A guy who walked on the court and never believed anyone could nor should beat them. We wanted a guy who sold signature shoes and lived in the film study room. We wanted a guy that ultimately won at the highest level. We wanted a Kobe. We wanted what we had never had. We revere point guards and power forwards in Utah as deity fully knowing that our gods were made mortal by true Celestials of dynamic wing players like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
For me, it wasn’t until a player like Donovan Mitchell that I not only grew to understand the “Mamba Mentality” but embrace it. Moves and stat lines that I would deride Kobe for, I stan for and love with Donovan Mitchell. What is the purpose of efficiency if there’s a loss to show for it? What is the purpose of being against “hero ball” if your team can’t overcome the power of one superstar in the final moments.
Writing about Kobe Bryant now as a Jazz fan spurs remorse and makes me wax nostalgic. I didn’t appreciate Kobe enough. His film study was legendary. His moves were flawless. His drive was unmatched. He did what it took to win. Growing up with the John Stockton and Karl Malone as basketball idols, Kobe Bryant is the type of player that would seem tailor made for the toughness of Jerry Sloan and rigidity of his regimen and discipline.
I offer—we at SLC Dunk offer—our condolences to his family at this time. I understand that his family probably is overwhelmed by sadness, loss, and just the sheer amount of attention his passing will receive. This is a tragedy. A loss for basketball. A loss for LA. A loss for sports. Most importantly, a father that is now gone. A husband that is now passed. Tragedies like these remind us of the importance of the here and now. Beyond the fans, the game, the court, and the celebrity, we remember basketball games as much as we remember the people with whom we experienced those memories. Every big Jazz win or loss, I text my father about it. It’s the human experience. A way of connection. Now there is a family that will miss their father and sister—a wife that will miss their husband and daughter—and that most precious of human experiences.
Hug your kids. Love your family. Mend those fences because life is fleeting. Appreciate the basketball you get to see, but remember there’s a lot more than just basketball. There’s life that is so temporary.
Kobe is gone. We’re reminded to focus on the now. Honorably to Kobe’s legacy, the only way to learn from—or about—Kobe now is through his preferred medium: game film. His secrets only survive in those games as the record. In the face of this tragedy, this is the only thing that feels comforting and fitting. Kobe wanted people to be as studious as he was about the game of basketball. Now, if you want to unlock the secrets to his success on the court, you must dedicate yourself to the study of the game and the study of him.
In Kobe’s last game which he scored 60 as a send off, he told the crowd, “What can I say? Mamba out.”
Mamba was not supposed to be out this soon.