On Tuesday, Jan. 26, as I scrolled through my social media feed, there was a common thread. All of a sudden, a wave of emotion hit.
Has it really been a year? One year since the world lost Kobe Bryant?
On Jan. 26, 2020, Kobe, alongside his daughter, Gianna and seven others, lost their lives in a helicopter crash in the hills nea Calabasas, California.
I remember how I felt when I heard the news. To learn that one of the best to have ever played had lost his life, along with his young daughter and two of her teammates, I was overwhelmed by sadness.
How the National Basketball Association and the rest of the world responded was beautiful.
What Kobe taught the rest of the world on the confines of the hardwood is to never be satisfied, to always strive to do better. What people called his “Mamba Mentality” shined throughout his career, and people strived for that same hyper focus. No matter what point in his career, he always strived to be the best.
Off the court, Kobe sought to be #GirlDad for his wife, Vanessa, and their four girls. Hearing the stories from Vanessa, friends and colleagues around the league, I understood that Kobe put his family first.
As Vanessa and their three girls went through an unspeakable grieving, the rest of the world expressed sadness, but also gratitude for Kobe’s continuing impact.
“Still doesn’t seem real. RIP to those lost. MAMBA FOREVER!!” Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love said on Instagram.
“Today, we honor and celebrate both (Kobe and Gianna) of you, you have left us with so much ... but even if it isn’t how we would like things to be, you are and always will be in our hearts,” former Laker teammate Pau Gasol posted on Instagram.
Others paid homage in different ways. We saw Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving wearing Kobe’s jersey walking into the arena the night before, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson wearing a specialty jersey honoring both Kobe and Gianna after clinching the AFC West on Dec. 30, 2020.
Lastly, the fans continue to pay respect to their hero. Whether it’s through the painting of murals, coming in droves to the Staples Center, they continuously pay their respects for not just the Bryant family, but also to the Altobelli, Chester, Mauser and Zoboyan families who suffered tremendous loss that fateful morning.
It’s rare to see such a person of prominence pass away at just 41. And Kobe’s death affected more than sports fans. He was one of the nearest things to a perfect athlete we have ever seen on the court, and someone who matured through time off the court in being the family man he was. What sticks out in my mind is one sentence.
Kobe Bryant had so much more to give to the world.
One of Kobe’s more admirable ventures was promoting women’s basketball. A perennial champion for the WNBA, he dove right into preparing the league’s next generation when he created the Mamba Academy. That’s where Gianna got to shine with her teammates Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester. He argued that top WNBA players such as Elena Della Donne, Diana Taurasi and Maya Moore could play in the NBA based on their skill set. He provided guidance and support to Oregon star Sabrina Ionescu and Katie Lou Samuelson on the college level. To see Kobe’s daughter and her two teammates named honorary draft picks during the 2020 WNBA draft was one of the more touching tributes in the past year.
Kobe’s ability to strive for greatness, to be a great dad and to treat women counterparts as talented equals was joyful to witness. When Jan. 26 arrives each year, sports fans’ heads will hang just a little bit lower. The tragedy of that day will hurt for a very long time.
Corey Kirk is sports editor for the Baker City Herald.