Most of you know me as a football guy. It's the sport I've covered most notably the last four and a half years here in D.C., but it's basketball that will always be my first sports love.
It's the sport I grew up playing and still do. It's a sport that was my escape and my solace. When life got me down, I'd grab a ball and my headphones and head to my local court. I'd take shot after shot, until I had sweat whatever had me down straight out of me.
As an eight-year-old I watched my favorite player Michael Jordan finish off Utah one final time. As a 12-year-old growing up in South Carolina, I watched my favorite team – the Charlotte Hornets – move to New Orleans. I needed a new team. That guy wearing No. 8 in L.A. looked a whole lot like old No. 23 from Chicago. Kobe Bryant became my new favorite player. The Lakers became my new favorite team.
The number of hours I spent in the gym by myself, from my teenage years through college and even to this day, working on my game the same way in the same style that Kobe did is almost embarrassing. It was his profession. I play pickup once a week. Yet it brings the same joy, because in the end basketball played at any level is just a game. So there I'd be working on a particular move, then the counter to that move and then the counter to that one…just like Kobe did.
So today as I went to my real job, talking into a microphone, I was tasked with delivering the news about a man who I hadn't really realized meant this much to me. My days of being a fan are long over. That is a hazard of this job. I root for players now if I root at all. I still enjoy the game, but when you get to know the people involved it becomes much more about them than the jerseys they wear, even if part of this job is capturing the people for the fans who care more than is possibly explainable about the jerseys.
The way I chose to do this was to share the stories that came flooding back to me over the last 20-something hours since the world was rocked by the news. Some of these were stories I was reminded of. Most of them are my own favorite Kobe stories – the things that defined my favorite player when I still had such a thing. Here they are, taken straight from my update scripts and enhanced with the audio and some accompanying material where appropriate.
Some players don’t understand and certainly can’t explain their own greatness. Kobe Bryant was not that player. Bryant's basketball education started with VHS tapes his grandparents would send him to Italy while his father was playing professionally there. He'd study them on end and engulf every piece of information he could about the players, like Magic Johnson.
As Bryant's own career accolades started ascending among those he'd studied, it allowed him leeway to do things on the court that others simply couldn't…because he did things that others simply couldn't. One of the best examples was after hitting a rather impossible shot falling into the Suns bench, he smacked Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry right on the butt. All Gentry could do was laugh.
Bryant passed away yesterday at the age of 41 with 8 others, including his 13 year old daughter, in a helicopter accident leaving behind an endless stream of memories, but also an endless amount of possibility. Bryant’s post-career life included copious amounts of mentoring and coaching as well as an academy award.
(Grant and Danny spoke at 12:15pm about the last celebrity death that had shaken them like Kobe’s had to so many. It lead right into this update):
I'm Craig Hoffman and my answer to that last question Grant and Danny asked – Stuart Scott and 14 years, one week and one day ago I like, so many of you, tuned on SportsCenter to get a recap of NFL Championship Weekend. Clear as day I can remember Stu greeting me like this instead
This was before smart phones. None of us knew what we were about to watch, which was Stuart…as only Stu could…describe one of the greatest performances in NBA history.
14 years later…perhaps the only thing more unbelievable is that both of them are gone. Bryant died yesterday in a helicopter crash at the age of 41. Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, two of her teammates – Alyssa and Payton, their parents, coaches and the pilot…nine in total…died in the crash as well.
The NBA continued its games last night. Players paid tribute by taking 8 and 24 second violations…of course Bryant’s two numbers in the NBA. Trae Young, Gianna Bryant’s favorite player, donned #8 as he dropped 45 points against the Wizards on…you guessed it…24 shots. Devin Booker scored 36 on 24 shots. Booker and Young combined? 81. Sports, man.
Kobe Bryant had four children. Two are under the age of four. There is Natalia, who is 17. Only one of them though – Gianna – was enough like her father to earn the nickname “Lady Mamba.” Bryant’s longtime teammate Derek Fisher said Gigi had the same demeanor as her dad. In dad’s retirement, she was with him on the sideline of games from NBA arenas to UConn’s Gampel Pavilion…an arena in which dad says she was hellbent on playing in. As you know by now, Gigi…at just 13…died with her father yesterday in helicopter crash. Seven others, including two of Gianna’s teammates – Alyssa and Payton – died as well. Kobe Bryant, who is a lock to be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year, was just 41 years old.
Kobe Bryant had a hand signal he would use that everybody in the league knew. He would stand at the elbow, whistle and then hold his hands up in a triangle with his index fingers and thumbs, flicking the triangle open and closed. In 2008 while doing an impression of Bryant in front of him and the rest of team USA, LeBron James explained what that meant.
James passed Bryant Saturday night for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and Kobe congratulated him in what turned out to be his final tweet. For as competitive as he was in the 20 years he played, he understood history and was gracious in defeat. Bryant died yesterday at just 41 years old in a helicopter crash in LA. He was one of nine victims. The crash is still under investigation.
James and the Lakers play for the first time since the tragedy tomorrow night in LA vs the Clippers. The NBA kept games on last night. The most notable performance came against the Wizards…Trae Young dropped 45 points including a half-court shot at the halftime buzzer for Atlanta while wearing Bryant’s #8 instead of his own number 11. Young was Gianna Bryant’s favorite player. Kobe and Gigi had gone to three games this year. Two of them were Young’s.
The things Kobe Bryant accomplished in 41 years of life would take some amount of time I cannot comprehend, nevertheless have to list. The basketball accomplishments could fill hours, if not days. He won an Academy Award for his animated letter “Dear Basketball”
He was the first athlete and first black man to win an Oscar for an animated short film. None of that touches the mentoring he was doing from his own children to NBA and WNBA players and everyone in between and beyond. That is why it’s so unfathomable to try and comprehend what he would have done next, which is all we’re left to do as Bryant died yesterday in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.
The NBA decided to keep its games last night on the schedule. Trae Young scored 45 points in a Hawks win over the Wizards while donning Bryant’s #8. Devin Booker scored 36 for Phoenix. Those numbers combined? 81 points…the number Bryant scored against the Raptors in Januray of 2006. Booker and Young each took 24 shots.
The scowl. Maybe nothing defined Kobe Bryant’s relentlessness like that look where his jaw jutted out as if to say “go ahead. Try and stop me. You can’t.” It’s why he looked almost confused when something finally did. In 2013 he had 32 points against the Warriors and went to drive for more when his Achilles gave. He grabbed it, rubbing it with a befuddled look on his face. He later said he knew exactly what happened. That did not stop him from getting up, walking to the free throw line, hitting two free throws and walking off the court under his own power. His relentlessness could not be stopped even by sports most devastating injury.
Devastating is also how we could describe yesterday when we found out Kobe, his daughter Gigi and seven others died in a helicopter crash outside LA. Kobe was 41. Gianna Maria was just 13. The NBA has chosen to march on and will play six games tonight.
There was one player who could not muster the strength to play last night after learning of Kobe Bryant’s death. Kyrie Irving left Madison Square Garden after hearing the news devastated. Irving’s relationship with Bryant goes back to when he was in high school, and just a year later he was in Team USA camp with Bryant when the young buck challenged the 5 time champ to a game of 1-on-1. It didn’t go well for Irving
That courtesy of Duke Blue Planet. Bryant and eight others including his daughter passed away in a helicopter crash yesterday at the age of 41. He’s a lock to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in August…the trademark competitiveness the hallmark of his 20 year career.
Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in an NBA game. You know this. But think about that. He scored 81 freaking points. He scored 55 in the second half. Kareem Abdul Jabar scored more points than anyone else in the history of the league. You know what his career high was in any single game? 55 points.
Lakers owner Jerry Buss said of watching Kobe that night “You’re sitting and watching and it’s like a miracle unfolding in front of your eyes and you can’t accept it. Somehow the brain won’t work.”
If you replace “miracle” with unspeakable tragedy, you could just as easily describe what it was like to watch the coverage of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Sarah and Payton Chester, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli as well as Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan yesterday. You can’t accept it. The brain won’t work.
25 hours later it’s just as impossible to accept that Bryant, known for his relentlessness, is gone. He’s eligible for the Hall of Fame this year and will certainly be voted in on his first ballot. The league will continue to honor him tonight with six more games on the schedule. The Lakers take the floor for the first time tomorrow night in LA against the Clippers.
The little girl who was becoming quite famous for being by her father’s side was Gianna Bryant, or as her dad…Kobe…called her Gigi. Gianna Maria was one of four of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant’s daughters, but she was the only one to take to basketball like her dad. Kobe recently said it was Gigi who brought him back to the game after he had mostly not watched much of the game he was obsessed after retiring in 2016. She was a budding star in her own right too, as Kobe told Jimmy Kimmel in 2018.
That is so hard to hear today after, as you well know by now, Kobe and Gianna died on their way to her basketball game yesterday in a helicopter crash. Bryant was a champion of the women’s game from Gigi’s Mamba Academy team to his close friend and future WNBA #1 overall pick Sabrina Ianescu and many other WNBA greats. Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife and mother Vanessa, 17 year old daughter and sister Natalia and the two younger Bryant girls – 3 year old Bianka and 7 month old Capri.
February 5th, 2009…Kobe Bryant has two appointments. One with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. One with their most famous fan after. Spike Lee was making a documentary called “Kobe Doing Work” and the Lakers star had agreed to do the voiceover work for the film that night after the game…but first Kobe had to do the actual work.
After smashing the record in the world’s most famous arena, Bryant signed the box score and gave it to Spike. “This is your fault” it said. Lee shared the signed piece of paper on Instagram earlier this afternoon after Bryant’s tragic passing yesterday in a helicopter crash. The Laker icon was just 41 years old. The crash also killed his daughter, 13 year old Gianna and two of her teammates as they were on the way to her basketball game. Payton Chester and her mom Sarah, Alyssa Altobelli and her parents John and Keri, as well as caoch Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan also died in the crash.
These trips down memory lane were fun at times. They are some of my favorite basketball memories. Others were completely heart-wrenching. For as much as Kobe gave us, he still had so much more to give. That isn't even to speak of what Gianna was on her way to becoming, her fellow teammates and their parents, their coach Christina Mauser or the pilot on the flight who perished as well.
They don't teach you in journalism school what to do on a day like this. This is how I felt it was best to do the job today. I hope I was right.
Gonna go grab my headphones and shoot some hoops now. Thanks for listening.