It’s been a year now.
In some ways it feels like 10 years. In other ways it feels like yesterday.
The pain has not subsided, making it feel as if the tragedy happened yesterday.
But it feels like an eternity for even more reasons. It all took place pre-Covid. It feels like forever since we haven’t seen Kobe and Gigi court side, or heard Kobe give an inspirational speech. The WNBA orange hoodie has taken over. Everyone constantly has new stories to tell about Kobe. His legend continues to grow, making it seem even long since he was able to narrate these stories for himself.
One thing remains true, no matter how long it has been: we are still searching for the answer to why it happened.
At first, it didn’t make sense. What would Bryant be doing in a helicopter that far from home at 9:45 a.m. on a Sunday? The answer was crushing. A year earlier, Bryant opened a sports training center called the Mamba Academy in Thousand Oaks, just 20 miles from the crash site, and the group was headed to a girls basketball tournament.
The first report came shortly before 1:30 p.m. ET and throughout the course of the day one devastating update followed another. First the shock of losing an icon at 41 years old. Then hearing his 13 year old daughter, who was a clone of him, was also on board. Then 7 others.
The world stopped despite Kobe always telling us to keep going. Everyone, basketball fan or not, collectively mourned the senseless tragedy.
Every generation encounters at least one event so significant, so traumatizing, that people forever hold on to the memory of where they were when they found out. What they were doing. Who told them. How it felt.
January 26th, 2020 is that moment for this generation.
I remember where I was. In bed hungover after a night of drunk karaoke singing for my sisters birthday. Until I got the call telling me “Kobe died.” I immediately snapped out of the hungover zombie trance I had been in and turned my focus into finding out if this was true of a cruel tabloid post. He directed me to the TMZ article and it hit me.
The calls and texts started flooding in from those who knew how much I idolized Kobe. Checking in to see if I was good, to see if I knew, to see if it was real.
For the rest of the day I sat in front of my tv and watched ESPN, tribute after tribute, emotional breakdown after emotional breakdown. I think in part I was just hoping there would be a breaking news alert that said Kobe had made it out alive and saved his daughter and anyone he could. Like Pau Gasol said, he made you believe that was more possible than him actually dying.
The timing of Kobe’s death was like something out of a Greek myth. The Lakers had been abysmal since his retirement, but LeBron James was on his way to changing that. The night before the helicopter crash, LeBron passed Kobe for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Kobe congratulated him in a phone call that night. It was as if he had passed the mantle.
And then the next morning he was gone.
NBA arenas across the country paid tribute to Kobe and Gigi by taking 24 second and 8 second violations at the start of games. Tears visibly flowing from grown mens eyes, broadcasters voices cracking with emotion, players deciding to sit out because they couldn’t bear the truth.
It didn’t seem real then and still doesn’t seem real now.
The Lakers dedicated the season to Kobe and Gigi, promising to cash in on what Kobe loved most, winning. And they did just that. On the backs of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers captured their 17th world title, all while doing so in Mamba inspired jerseys and with a Mamba mentality.
It brought joy to the ever mourning fanbase, even a little smile to the Bryant families faces, but it subsided just as quickly as it took to let out that smile.
For me it was more of a sense of relief that they finally finished the job for Kobe, more so than it was wow were NBA champs. We were champions but Kobe was still gone.
I catch myself randomly thinking about Kobe.
While I throw something in the trash, saying “KOBE!” is just a natural reflex.
I dawn my WNBA hoodie and I think about what could’ve been with Gigi.
I watch LeBron hit a fadeaway and if you squint just enough it looks like Kobe is still on the court. Watch any NBA game ands you will see Kobe’s influence.
Scroll through IG and see Vanessa post the kids with Uncle Pau and I smile knowing Kobe is proud Pau is there for the family, but still calling him soft for drinking tea out of a fake cup.
I see Shaq calling out players on Inside the NBA and think damn I hear a little Kobe in his voice.
Kobe is everywhere and inside all of us.
If you just squint enough, and imagine just a little, it is as if he is still walking among us.
He is not, but that is the legacy he leaves. It’s not the titles or the clutch shots, it is the mamba mentality he inspired a whole generation to have.
So while we mourn today, and every January 26th going forward, do so the way Kobe would want you too. Let it out but know he’s coming back to the huddle to call you a soft bitch like he did to Pau Gasol, and Luke Walton. It should be enough to crack a smile and break up the sadness just enough.
“Walk until the darkness is a memory, and you become the sun on the next traveler’s horizon.”- Kobe Bryant