The world was stunned Jan. 26 as news outlets reported the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant and seven other passengers resulting from a helicopter crash in Los Angeles, Cali.
Bryant played 20 seasons in the NBA as one of the first players to enter the league directly from high school. He was drafted in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets and immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers where he spent his entire two-decade-long career before retiring in 2016.
Bryant is considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball players ever, lauded as a scorer and leader. The 6-foot-6 Philadelphia-native won five NBA Championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, two NBA scoring titles, two Olympic Gold Medals and the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2008. Moreover, Bryant was an 18-time NBA All-Star, 15-time All-NBA Team selection and 12-time All-NBA Defensive Team selection — a testament to his skill on both ends of the floor.
Both men’s basketball head coach Tony Bennett and women’s basketball head coach Tina Thompson reflected on Bryant’s contributions to basketball.
“You associate Kobe with watching so many great NBA finals and whenever an iconic hero like that passes it makes everyone step back and think about how precious life is and your own mortality,” Bennett said.
Thompson, a Los Angeles native, reflected on Bryant’s legacy after the Cavaliers beat Notre Dame last Sunday. While playing for the Los Angeles Sparks in the WNBA, Thompson was coached by Joe Bryant — a former NBA player and Kobe’s father — and shared the Staples Center with the Lakers when the Kobe-led team won back-to-back NBA Championships in 2009 and 2010.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the Bryant family … I urge our kids to live and to play without any regrets,” Thompson said. “We have the privilege to do something we love, and we should never take it for granted. Kobe was an excellent example of that, never taking his privilege and opportunity for granted.”
Bryant was also perhaps the most popular basketball player in the 2000s, becoming a cornerstone athlete for Nike’s basketball shoes with his own signature sneaker collection. Many collegiate and professional basketball players drew inspiration from Bryant’s playing skills and off-the-court activities — including former Virginia men’s basketball guards Malcolm Brogdon, Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome and current women’s basketball senior guard Dominique Toussaint.
“Kobe Bryant was the epitome of hard work, love for the game and mastering your craft,” Brogdon said. “I think the beauty in what he was doing [during retirement] was spreading that passion [for basketball], spreading that love and masterfulness through his ‘mamba mentality’ and through his daughters, to other people — so it’s a very sad day.”
Guy touched on the impact Bryant had on his early basketball career.
“[Bryant was] the reason I wore 24 in high school … [he] set an unbelievable standard for myself as a competitor and for how I hope to be with my kids,” Guy wrote in an Instagram post.
Bryant’s sudden passing shocked many individuals who looked up to him, making the death of the icon even more difficult to process.
“My hero, my inspiration … [I’m] speechless,” Jerome wrote in a social media post.
For Toussaint, who was playing against Notre Dame last Sunday when reports of Bryant’s death began to circulate, the news was surreal.
“This doesn’t make sense,” Toussaint shared on Instagram. “Truly lost for words. Rest in paradise to a legend and legend to be.”
After retiring from the NBA, Bryant won an Academy Award for his documentary “Dear Basketball” and coached his daughter Gianna’s travel basketball team. In the months before his death, Bryant was actively involved in writing a children’s book, producing his own television show on ESPN and campaigning for women’s basketball at all competitive levels.
Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri.