Remembering Kobe: 8 thoughts from The Pick and Roll team

Jacob Doole

I barely knew who Kobe Bryant was, when I first set foot in Los Angeles in the mid-2000s. That didn’t last long though. It couldn’t, because he was everywhere you looked. It was more than your average sporting superstar’s presence in their city. LA was a Lakers town, and it was clear how much love the city had for the leader of their team. There must have been a handful of Clippers fans somewhere, but they were drowned out by the sheer size of Kobe’s character. For a sports mad kid yet to really connect with basketball, seeing that in person was all it took. The glimpses I caught—the footwork, the fadeaway, the soaring dunks, the unwavering focus—were the spark that lit my biggest passion.

Fast forward to early 2016, the midst of Kobe’s final season. I’d booked a trip to the United States before his retirement was official, but knowing that it might be my last chance to see my idol play. Over one month and twelve Lakers games, I had the chance to observe, admire and soak in every little detail of the player I had loved for so long. His game may have faded, but his aura still filled every stadium he played in. There were more missed shots than he would ever be happy with, and yet it still always felt like the next shot was going to fall. That confidence was infectious, and it made even the blowout losses a thrilling experience.

The one thing that surprised me was how much the opposition’s fans embraced him during his final visits. Watching from overseas, he’d always seemed like the perfect villain for the players and fans he faced. From all reports, that was true— if you weren’t a Laker, then you loved to hate him. It became clear, though, that there was an immense respect behind the hatred, and that respect came flooding out in standing ovations and postgame embraces in every city I went to. To me, those interactions with opposing players and coaches spoke volumes to the man behind the scenes, the one that we as fans never truly got the chance to know.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LUYgIuUea64

Being in the building for this game was, without a doubt, the greatest moment of my life. Seeing Kobe at all was mind-boggling, but seeing him at his best was something I’ll never forget. I watch those highlights regularly; I watched them three days ago on a whim, and I’m sure I’ll watch them plenty more times in the coming days, weeks and months. I spent every cent I had, and some that I didn’t, on that trip. Now more than ever, I know I would do the same again a hundred times over.

I’m nowhere near qualified to talk about Kobe Bryant as a man, or even as a player. All I know is the impact that he has had on me. All those years ago, he was the reason I started following basketball at all. The moments I witnessed during his final season affirmed my dreams of working in the sports industry. Now, I’m chasing a career in basketball writing, after a lifetime with some of my best memories watching and playing the game. Kobe has had more of an impact on my past, present and future than I would have ever thought possible for a complete stranger. The reactions to his passing show that millions of others feel the same way. It’s a footprint that reaches way beyond basketball, and a legacy that will endure even without him leading the way.


Tony Cocking

When I think of Kobe Bryant, one word keeps coming into my head: enemy.

The reason isn’t too complex or profound. It is simply because, professionally, that’s what he was to me for twenty long seasons. A foe. An adversary. A generational megastar who meant headaches for any team he played against. As a Toronto Raptors fan, I’m intimately familiar with the kind of damage Kobe could do.

Wilt Chamberlain’s record may be untouchable, but in my opinion, 81 points in 2006 is a more legendary feat than 100 points in 1962. This was in an era where everyone - even the most futile of teams - was elite. For Kobe, it didn’t matter. He was a force of nature who bent the game to his will; woe betide all who got in his path.

Of course, it wasn’t accidental. Kobe Bryant reaped exactly what he sowed, working harder than anyone else. This wasn’t just a man who loved the game, he was a professional who understood that he was at work every time he set foot on the court.He didn’t suffer fools, and though that may have rubbed some people the wrong way, it was part of what set him apart. Basketball was a gift to Kobe, one that he cherished more than almost anything else.

Almost.

If you wanted to see Kobe at his most ecstatic, however, you needn’t look any further than when he was with his wife and daughters. He spoke with such pride, such reverence. Without trying to put words in his mouth, it seemed immediately apparent that they were his greatest joy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUUfJ_THRGQ

He was a passionate ally of women’s basketball, a man with an extensive list of charity work, a shrewd businessman and a beacon of hope for countless fans.

Was Kobe my enemy? Sure, but only as much as an actor playing a particularly good movie villain. The reason he made for such a fantastic foil was because of his supreme ability. In every other way, Kobe Bryant was an ally. To his family, to the community, and to the world.

My sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Kobe and Gianna, and to the family and friends of the seven others who lost their lives that day.


Chris Sermeño

Kobe Bryant.

You don't have to be a basketball fan to know exactly who he is. All through my experience working retail, I had friends, coworkers, even strangers yelling Kobe when putting up a shot. It's the kind of influence we could only dream of.

I'm unashamedly a LeBron James fan, and I always wanted him to get one over Kobe. Even if LeBron wasn't playing against him, I always wanted to see the Kobe-led Lakers struggle. For so long, he was the standard, the bar that continually crept higher as players chased his shadow.

And every single time, he would make his performances look flawless as the Lakers ran rampant during his time in Los Angeles. I even wrote about him in the twilight of his career. Some athletes will retire on top of the food chain, but Kobe was different. He'd won everything there was in sight for a basketballer to win, and at that point he was playing purely for pride and for the love of the game of basketball. In someone's passing, it provides an opportunity to reflect, and gives you a whole new perspective when you take the time to look back. I was privileged to have seen you play on TV, win championships, change the game and etching yourself in history with your Black Mamba mentality.

Your persona, flair, skills and unwavering confidence was truly once in a lifetime. I can only hope to emulate your resolute focus, determination to succeed and relentless pursuit of greatness. You were taken far too early, but your amazing legacy will live on forever. Rest in peace, Black Mamba. #8 #24


Winston Zhang

As a Dallas Mavericks fan, my fondest memory of Kobe Bryant was... sweeping him and the Los Angeles Lakers out of the 2010/11 playoffs, that eventually led to a a first ever championship title for Dallas, and for Nowitzki himself.

Here’s the thing though. When that series had started to run away from Los Angeles, other players (read: Andrew Bynum) were losing their heads. During Game 4, with the Lakers down by 32 in the fourth quarter, Bynum was ejected after a flagrant foul call, and removed his jersey as he strode off the court.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d12YVBOrP00

"We were getting embarrassed, they were breaking us down. So I just fouled somebody," he said after the game. "I was just kind of salty about being embarrassed. ... For me, it was embarrassing to have the smallest guy on the court keep running down the lane and making shots."

Kobe however, kept his composure and professionalism, and those qualities became ever more apparent as his career went along. It was gratifying to see him and Dirk Nowitzki appreciate each other’s extremely different (but similarly devastating) games. Kobe called himself a big fan of Dirk, and confirmed that he had attempted to recruit Nowitzki to the Lakers during free agency. Dirk also returned the love. "I was always a huge fan of Kobe," Nowitzki said. "When I get home, at like 11 p.m., I know the fourth quarter will be just starting in L.A., and I'll sit down and watch him basically will his team to win with some incredible shots."

The respect was apparent, especially after a game winner Dirk made in 2016 against the Lakers. The German forward came off a screen, got the ball in his usual post position, and went to work.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rIBvkNye1iI

Bryant did not play, but that unspoken exchange after Nowitzki's shot added some real substance to that tired old cliche of “real recognise real”.

Kobe’s legacy was complicated and obviously not sparkling clean - but his dedication to, and love of the game were clear to see, even to someone like me, who never liked him. And perhaps that’s the greatest part of Kobe Bryant's legacy - even those who held no fond feelings for him, still respected him for what he accomplished.


Matt Hickey

Kobe Bryant was must-watch TV when I used to rush home from school, when the NBA was being broadcast on the now-defunct One HD.

However, my favourite Kobe story was from his last game, when he dropped that famous 60 point performance. I was in class at university, and to be honest, was paying no attention as I was watching the Black Mamba’s final game. I noticed a guy in front of me doing the same, and when he turned around and saw me wearing my Kobe jersey, he picked up his things and moved to the chair next to me.

For the rest of the class, we watched the game together, two complete strangers sitting in awe as the famous No. 24 turned it on one last time. We shot each other looks when Kobe would nail baskets, trying not to bring attention to the fact we had no idea what was going on in the class.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdGeXcJ-hfo

When the class finished we spoke about how incredible it was and then parted ways, knowing that we just experienced greatness.

Kobe Bryant was a god of the game and on that day, like many others across his career, he did so many spectacular things. However, the most important thing he did was bring people together, which is the greatest aspect of the game. Life is bigger than basketball.

Forever a legend, #24.


Tony McLachlan

It was Kobe Bryant’s dedication to the game of basketball that won me over and eventually made him must-see TV for me. The skills built on a foundation of fundamentals, an unwavering drive to achieve a goal, and a work ethic that stood out above everyone else.

These were the things I noticed as I watched otherwordly Kobe performances such as outscoring the Dallas Mavericks 62-61 through three quarters, dropping 81 points on the Toronto Raptors, or hitting two free throws against the Golden State Warriors after tearing his Achilles. There are not many players that I would take a day off work for just to watch their last game, but I was certainly glad I did when Kobe delivered 60 points against the Jazz with his final highlight reel performance as a Laker.

For all of the amazing career highlights I watched, I had become much more interested in Kobe’s life post-basketball. I have three daughters and work in a creative field. Reading about Kobe’s devotion to his family, the drive to excel in his new creative pursuits, and ongoing mentoring of younger players in an effort to pass on his knowledge of the game, all resonated with me greatly.

At face value the Mamba mentality may have seemed like a gimmick, but to watch Kobe exemplify this approach through all aspects of his life, made it an ethos that anyone can strive to live by. That mindset of Kobe’s is what I will always draw motivation from when realising life is a game that can end all too suddenly – don’t leave the court wondering what may have been.


Michael Houben

Kobe Bryant was the face of the NBA for my post-Jordan generation. His insatiable work ethic and dogged on-court determination would come to define his persona. That persona, elevated by an incredibly articulate and charismatic personality, was one that transcended basketball and sport in its entirety.

For basketball fans, including myself, his aesthetically pleasing game and poetic nature of his career was a joy to watch and an inspiration to look up to.

While Kobe was incredibly competitive, his ability to lift others up around him made him great. The countless connections and anecdotes shared after his passing are a testament to his impact.

His 'Mamba Mentality' was a phrase coined to represent a pursuit of excellence not just in basketball, but as a way of life for whatever goals you aim to achieve. It was through his post-career ventures into business, books, a short film, women's basketball and more that Kobe was able to demonstrate this, and indicate to everyone how much more he still had to give to the world after putting down a basketball.

Most inspiring of all was the passion and dedication Kobe put into fatherhood. It makes it all the more saddening that he passed away alongside his daughter, Gigi, this week.


Kein

I've never been a Kobe Bryant fan.

I stopped watching the NBA in 1998, right after Michael Jordan's final shot wrapped the Chicago Bulls' second three-peat in a beautiful finish, a season that Phil Jackson poetically named The Last Dance. Having skipped the entire era of Kobe's ascendance, I always thought of him as an Michael Jordan facsimile – close, but no cigar. It didn’t help that he played for the Boston Celtics' traditional rivals in the Lakers. I disliked the way Kobe dominated the ball and refused to make the right team play, going back to isolation hero ball and taking contested shots, time after time. I hated that the Celtics couldn’t close Kobe's Lakers out in 2010's Game 7, even as we were up in the fourth quarter. Watching him live in February 2011, was terrifying. Ray Allen broke the record, but the game was still lost. Kobe ended that game with 23 points.

But I respected his skills. As his career wound to a close, I could say I gained a measure of understanding, especially when he made more of an attempt to be more open to media, and shared his perspectives, that made me relate better. He was undoubtedly a relentless competitor, an individual whose workouts are the stuff of countless anecdotes. He was someone who sacrificed and abused every bit of his body, wrung every last fiber of talent, used every ounce of intelligence, put the countless hours of work in, to translate that into success.

His late career was a careful construction of the Black Mamba persona, that’s basically morphed into a postcareer launching pad. The Dominate hashtag has been a larger-than-life slogan, inspiring people to rise to the challenge, and give everything their hardest effort. And that’s a wonderful thing. I’m a big fan of the results, even though it sounded cheesy as hell.

But no one’s perfect, and neither was he. We should never whitewash someone’s life and just pretend the case never happened – it scarred an individual for life, and that will never go away. It’s important to recognise his on-court achievements, his mentorship with the NBA's next generation, the work he’s done to promote the women’s game, the family man and loving, proud father he is, the warmth, support and generosity he’s exhibited to countless people around him, the constant effort he’s put in to make himself a better person – just as it is to note the mistakes. We all make mistakes, and they never go away. The only thing we can do, is to make a proper apology. We acknowledge, never do it again, and keep moving forward. We try to be better people, and that's what he's done.

Seeing the news of the accident that morning, was unreal. Just like that, Kobe Bryant was gone. Also gone, were the other people on that flight. His daughter, Gianna Bryant. John, Keri Altobelli, and their daughter Alyssa. Christina Mauser. Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton. Ara Zobayan. Every one of them, precious lives.

I fully expected Kobe to be around for a long time and become a basketball institution, the way Bill Russell has been. I was looking forward to more of the Detail curse, and listen to him break down minute details on footwork that no one else would even be thinking of. I knew he would give a brilliant, moving speech on his Hall of Fame acceptance. He would have had it all planned right down to the final detail, execute it perfectly, and do a perfect mic drop moment with 'Mamba out' once more. There was so much more, but now there's none. There's nothing left for basketball, nothing for the other creative endeavours he could have been planning, and above all, nothing for his grieving family, friends and fans. It's a stark reminder that life can just vanish at a moment's notice. It's is too short, as we're reminded yet again, and often moves too quickly in directions we do never expect. Stay in the present, do what you love, and make the most of your days. Never be shy to show appreciation for the people who make your life better.

Life will go on, and basketball doesn't stop. But it'll never be quite the same without Kobe Bryant.