It’s still hard to fathom that Kobe Bryant wasn’t alive to experience most of the accolades of his post-NBA career. He wasn’t here for his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, the NBA’s All-75 team or the unveiling of a statue of him Thursday outside Crypto.com Arena.
Bryant and eight others, including his daughter, Gianna, died in a tragic helicopter crash on January 26, 2020. Four years ago feels like two decades in the COVID world. The 2020 NBA All-Star Game that featured Kobe’s fourth-quarter score took place in Chicago three weeks to the day of his death. His public tribute was eight days later, and 16 days later, that world came to a screeching halt. Bryant’s family was forced to confront the grim reality shared by millions of others, grieving the loss during a viral plague.
I didn’t have time to come to terms with the part of grieving with a person I first saw on the news when I was seven, and then watched Thursday night after Thursday night on TNT for two decades. I remember seeing your Moesha The episode lives almost as clearly as I do his last fortuitous shot against the Utah Jazz.
It’s also difficult to fully acknowledge the reality of his death because I live in Los Angeles. Bryant’s fans are everywhere, so he was familiar with the personality traits: stubborn and obsessive. In Los Angeles, he has simply increased because almost everyone in the second-largest metropolitan area in the United States is part of that group.
I moved to Los Angeles a little over a month before the start of the 2018-19 season. The tension that was talked about in the media about Lakers fans welcoming LeBron James was true. It’s still true. Watch the Lakers in a bar and one, or all, of these three phrases will inevitably be uttered: “He’s not Kobe yet,” “Kobe would have made that shot,” “Kobe is the best.” If James, or the person he passes to, misses a shot, five minutes of talk about Bryant will surely follow.
Bryant Stans serves as a Secret Service for his legacy. They don’t expect an attack from the Clippers jersey at the bar. Action is taken quickly and substantially.
Hearing his name so regularly right before quarantine, then hardly hearing anything because I couldn’t be around people, and then hearing it again as soon as I got out, combined with all the murals out there, it’s almost like I never left .
A long one-on-one conversation with a fan about Bryant will eventually turn moody, but when it comes to general sports talk, he acts as the standard-bearer. I remember a conversation with my landlord’s son a few years ago. He is not a big basketball fan. I don’t even remember the player he was describing, or what sport he played. However, when I finished describing that player’s traits, his response: “Oh, like Kobe.”
Bryant doesn’t feel dead here, because people here don’t talk about him in the past tense. Kobe would do do it different, not kobe did do it differently. Kobe is the best, not kobe was the best.
In a place fueled by star power, there is one that will never go out. As someone who never knew Bryant, I would probably have to move away from Los Angeles to understand the finality of his death.
Bryant was physically unable to receive the honors of an all-time great. His wife has been in his shoes time and time again. Sorry Drake, but for those of us who are lucky enough, there will be someone who has been by our side in most places besides shooting in the gym to represent us when we’re gone.
Since we never got to see Bryant’s gate slow like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s or the age in his eyes like Jerry West’s, the vitality in him still resonates in the world. No doubt that’s one of the reasons he still doesn’t feel completely gone. But what really keeps him alive is the people who refuse to let his image fade.