The news of Kobe Bryant’s sudden death on Sunday came as a shock to a lot of people in both the basketball and sports community. And how could it not, he was one of the most influential and popular athletes of the new millennium, going through one of the most storied NBA-careers we have ever seen.
When he first made the league fresh out of high-school, there were people comparing him to the likes of Michael Jordan and doubting he could match such greatness. By the time he hung up the shoes in 2016, Bryant not only made a case as a comparable to Jordan, but an excellent player in his own right.
The list of accolades in Bryant’s resume is loaded and impressive. He won five NBA titles, three of which came as a three-peat in the early 2000s alongside Shaquille O’Neal. He was named league-MVP in 2008. Twice in his career he was named Finals MVP. He appeared in 18 All-Star games, was named to the All-NBA first team 11 times, to the All-NBA Defensive team 9 times, and won two NBA scoring titles.
He spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angelas Lakers, finishing first in franchise games played, minutes, three-pointers, steals, and points. Additionally, he came up big in the playoffs, finishing his career fourth all-time in points, ninth in assists, sixth in steals, fifth in field-goals made, and eighth in three-points made.
Most impressively, he is 4th on the all-time points leaderboard, having only recently been surpassed by LeBron James.
Then there are the on-court accomplishments that still have fans clamouring to this day. Like his duels against Jordan early in his career, or his clutch performance in the 2008 Summer Olympics. There was his 2013 season where he put the Lakers on his back only to have an Achilles injury cut his year short. Or in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals where he led the Lakers to a big win over the Boston Celtics to clinch the title. Or his iconic buzzer beater in the 2006 playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. And let’s not forget how he capped off his career with a 60-point performance against the Utah Jazz.
There were also moments that made us smile. Like the time he quieted a Dallas Mavericks fan by counting the number of rings he had. Or when Chris Rock was trying to talk to him on the sidelines and he sat completely still. And, of course, the time he stood down Matt Barnes and didn’t flinch when the latter faked a pass to his face.
But perhaps no number will define Bryant’s career better than the number 81. That is the number of points he scored in a game against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006 in game where the Lakers needed him to score badly. Bryant always rose to the occasion no matter the circumstances and more often than not came out on top.
While his reputation off the court has come into question at times, with the 2003 sexual assault case being the prime suspect, it’s hard to deny just how special of a player he was during his athletic peak. Players like him don’t come around very often and a lot of us were fortunate enough to witness him at his best while we were growing up.
This goes for some of the young NBA players that have recently gotten their career started. They are the ones who, like the rest of us, stood in awe as he pulled off his fadeaway jumper, his clutch shots, and his impressive dunks each and every night. They’re the ones who looked up to him as a player and modelled their games in part to what he was able to accomplish.
When I was growing up, whenever my friends and I would throw something out, we would always take a few steps back, yell “KOBE” at the top of our lungs, and threw our garbage in the air with the hope of it landing cleanly in the trash bin. It’s not an isolated incident (I’m sure most people around my age did the same thing when they were younger), but it goes to show just how much of an impact Bryant made in our lives.
So it’s no wonder a lot of people have been impacted by the unforeseen news of his untimely passing. Having someone you looked up to growing up being taken from this world at the young age of 41 is heartbreaking and saddening.
Whether you remember him donning the number 8 or the number 24, there’s no denying Bryant was one of the greatest NBA players of all time. A legendary athlete taken from us far too soon.
Rest in peace, Kobe Bryant.