The texts came in almost simultaneously around 2:40 p.m. Sunday afternoon, from my cousin Robby and my buddy Jeff.
One just said “Kobe Bryant,” and the other said “News is reporting Kobe just died in a helicopter crash.”
Shocked, stunned, in disbelief: I just kind of stared at the phone for a minute, one of those moments where you’re looking at words and you’re not really sure what you’re reading is real.
But of course it is. Forty-one year old Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the 10 greatest basketball players who ever laced up a pair of sneakers, died in a plane crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others on Sunday outside Calabasas, Calif.
So many thoughts to process, and I will try to be coherent with this post but no guarantees. I’m also quite certain I’m going to anger some of you with some of what I’m going to write.
OK, first, it’s an absolute tragedy that 41-year-old man in the prime of his life was killed in an accident, and his beautiful 13-year-old daughter as well.
From all accounts, since his retirement in 2016 Kobe has been a terrific father to his children, and has done numerous philanthropic and educational projects, as well as writing children’s books that have sold very well.
And on the basketball court… he was unbelievable. From the time he came into the NBA straight out of high school, he was clearly an unmatched talent.
He could score against anybody, at any time, and was the most cold-blooded competitor of the post-Jordan era. The sheer range of his offensive abilities, from outside shooting, driving, dunking, to any other way you could score, was amazing.
He was such a willful assassin on the court, willing to cut your heart out and work harder, longer, than anybody else. The stories of his dedication to the sport are legion, and he should absolutely be admired for so much of what he did on the court, winning five championships (three with Shaquille O’Neal, two without him, which is even more impressive) for the Lakers.
He will go down as one of the all-time legends of the sport, and it is an unspeakable tragedy that he’s gone, so young, when he had so much more living to do, and perhaps so much more to give to the world.
Now… I do believe we’re all capable of holding two thoughts in our heads at the same time. And I also don’t believe that when a person dies suddenly, at such a young age, it doesn’t mean we have to forget and wash away everything negative about them and simply celebrate only the good.
So there are some other aspects of Kobe Bryant that can, and should, be a part of his obituary, and his legacy.
In July, 2003, Kobe Bryant allegedly raped a 19-year-old hotel employee in Eagle, Colo. The sheriff’s department arrested him, had lots of evidence to bring him to trial, and after a torrent of negative publicity and harassment of his victim, she decided not to continue with the criminal charges, and settled out of court in a civil case for an undisclosed amount from Bryant.
From everything I have read about the case, it is overwhelmingly clear that Kobe did commit rape. And the fact that he got away with it, and ruined a young woman’s life while getting to continue his career, should never, ever be forgotten. He never admitted guilt, and got to continue his life as a worldwide celebrity who is adored by millions.
There are also legions of stories about Kobe being a complete jerk to his teammates, including Shaq, and refusing to compromise or put aside his ego for anything or anybody, and that, ultimately, is what led to the breakup of the Lakers.
I write these last few paragraphs not to tear down someone who just died, but simply to remind that we are all human, who make mistakes galore (I know I have made more than my share) and that all of it, the good and the bad, should be remembered when thinking about the life of Kobe Bean Bryant.
He was an icon, and a very flawed human being. We needn’t forget any of his life. He’ll be remembered forever as an incredible talent who we sports fans were fortunate to get to witness.
Rest in peace, Kobe and Gianna. You both had so much more living to do.
**And finally today, my annual “Get off my Lawn” thoughts on the Grammy Awards, where I try to make sense of current music while celebrating artists from the past who I’m lucky enough to see and recognize on this year’s Grammys.
Of course, this year they were airing live from the Staples Center, the arena Kobe Bryant called his home for most of his basketball career, so from Lizzo’s opening words “This is for Kobe” the Grammys had a definite Kobe vibe to them.
— Lizzo is probably very talented and seems to be loved by millions. But I just don’t get her, or her music. But she does seem to be a hell of a performer.
— Any chance I get to see or hear Boyz II Men again, I’m happy. Their song tribute to Kobe, “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” with Alicia Keys that helped open the show was fabulous.
— Shania Twain looked like a glittery disco ball and I love her so I’m not going to criticize but damn, that was not a good look.
— Alicia Keys is straight-up awesome. She’s smart, she’s funny, she’s got an amazing voice, and I want her to host more stuff. She was terrific Sunday night.
— From Ariana Grande’s performance and many others, it seems clothes were mostly optional for Grammy performers.
— Absolutely loved the Aerosmith/Run DMC reunion collaboration on “Walk This Way.” That will always be an amazing song, and I say this not just because when I was 12 I “performed” a version of this with my friend Erik during our summer camp talent show. We nailed it.
— The Lil’ Nas X performance of “Old Town Road” was bizarre but entertaining. I think that song has now been played four million times on the radio.