USA TODAY US Edition
Remembering Kobe Bryant
Kobe enjoyed retirement as much as game
The superstar had moved on to a new, comfortable phase of his basketball life, Dan Wolken writes.
A few days before Christmas, it occurred to me that so much about Kobe Bryant’s post-basketball life was not unfolding the way we might have expected.
For somebody who had been quite comfortable as the NBA’s most famous and polarizing player for a long period of his career, he was not clinging to the spotlight or using his status as a global basketball icon to stay relevant. He wasn’t on TV talking about the NBA, he was making movies. He wasn’t hanging around arenas trying to get noticed, he was bringing his daughter to see her favorite players.
Which is where I noticed Kobe sitting courtside in Brooklyn on Dec. 21 with 13-year-old Gianna, whom he brought so that she could watch Atlanta’s Trae Young, one of her favorite players. The camera, of course, was frequently drawn to Bryant and Gianna during the game because Kobe showing up courtside was always going to be an event.
It was so noticeable how happy he was that day, being able to share something like that with his daughter given his place in the history of the sport. But it was also clear he had moved on to a different and completely comfortable phase of his basketball life, one that was no longer about what he could do in basketball but what he knew.
Sadly, those images are going to be shown today for all of the wrong reasons. Both Kobe and Gianna died on Sunday in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles as they were traveling to one of her games, an event so shocking and surreal that it’s impossible to respond in a way that feels appropriate.
To lose someone as important as Bryant in the basketball pantheon so suddenly before his 42nd birthday means we are entirely unprepared to talk about his loss, even though it’s our responsibility to chronicle who he was and what he meant.
In that sense, there are two things that stand out: the clarity about what his job was on the basketball court and the ease with which he left it behind.
Every great NBA superstar has a trait that defines them, and Bryant’s was the certainty with which he
played the game. He was there to score, he was committed to rise to the stakes of the game, and he was willing to live with the results no matter what they were as long as he had some control of the outcome.
While Bryant’s single-mindedness as a competitor late in games might have been a weakness from time to time, he knew exactly who he was and what he was supposed to do when it mattered. And more often than not, he came out on the right end of it. He was the Mamba every time he took the floor.
Bryant will not be remembered as a better player than either Michael Jordan or LeBron James, but he was the bridge between them, carving out a legacy of five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, an 81point game and an incredible 60 points the final time he took the floor in 2016.
What was so remarkable, though, was that Bryant’s farewell tour really was goodbye. His skills had certainly declined in his final years, and injuries had taken away much of his explosiveness, but you can imagine someone who thrived on competition the way Bryant did might have struggled with the transition to a new life.
Bryant, from all accounts, did not. He wasn’t showing up at NBA games trying to hog attention. There was never any talk of a vanity comeback. Instead, he wrote books and won an Academy Award for an animated short film he had written. He coached his daughter’s travel basketball team. There was talk that he worked out with a few NBA players behind the scenes in the offseason.
It was so cool to think that Bryant, unlike many superstars who struggle being out of the game, seemed totally content with how everything had worked out in his life.
Now, it’s hard to believe that it has ended.