Patterico's Pontifications


Kobe Bryant, 1978 – 2020

Filed under: General — JVW @ 1:03 am

[guest post by JVW]

Kobe Bean Bryant’s life, which ended far too soon, was a testament to hard work, tenacity, self-confidence, and second chances. The son of an NBA player and a basketball prodigy from an early age, he dominated competition in his high school years to such a degree that he became the first wing player to forego an obligatory year or two of seasoning in a college program and was drafted straight into the NBA at age 17. When he debuted for the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1996-97 season shortly after his eighteenth birthday, he was at the time the youngest player to ever play in an NBA game. He had come to the attention of Lakers general manager Jerry West, a legendary player in his own right, during a pre-draft workout in which one of the greatest talent evaluators of his era correctly determined that the kid from suburban Philadelphia was worth trading away an established veteran who would later be inducted into the hall of fame in order to get the promising kid.

While his athletic ability and work effort were immediately visible, it took the young man some time to get his proper footing in a league dominated by superstar players at his position like Michael Jordan and Penny Hardaway. Kobe’s first season ended in a playoff series defeat to the Utah Jazz, with the final game featuring the brash rookie shooting four airballs in the game’s final five minutes. The next two Laker seasons would also see early playoff exits, and while Bryant’s rapid development as a player was obvious, it was also apparent that he was often a selfish player, so sure of his own talent that he would at times hog the ball and freeze out his teammates, including Shaquille O’Neal who at the time was the league’s most difficult player to guard. Add to that the gross over-marketing of the kid in the post-Jordan era when the NBA was desperate for a new superstar in the under-seven-foot category and Kobe’s lamentable foray into music, and it was understandable that the flip side of the basketball promise of Kobe Bryant was the potential for him to become completely insufferable.

The glory years for Kobe, Shaq, and the Lakers commenced in the 1999-2000 season as the team gelled, in large measure thanks to their new coach Phil Jackson who forced his two superstars to hold their massive egos in check for the greater good. That season the team won the first of three consecutive NBA titles. Though O’Neal continued during this period to be the NBA’s most dominant player and was the MVP of all three NBA championships, Bryant’s intensity and clutch play were key to the Lakers’ success, and Kobe quickly became a fan favorite.

The absolute bottom of Kobe’s career came after the 2003 season, in which the Lakers were denied a chance at a fourth straight title with a conference semi-final loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Bryant, who continued to be impetuous and unpredictable at age 24, traveled to Aspen to undergo knee surgery without bothering to inform his employer. While there, he had a sexual encounter with a 19-year-old hotel clerk, which she soon characterized as non-consensual over his strenuous denials. Two years earlier Kobe had impulsively married Vanessa Laine only one year after she had graduated from high school, a move which alienated Bryant from his family. The combination of obvious adultery and potential rape immediately ended many of his endorsement deals, though some major deep-pocked corporations managed to keep him on retainer even if they stopped using him in promotions while the criminal trial played out. A panicking Bryant told the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office during his interview that he wished he had just paid the woman money to keep quiet, “like Shaq does,” which caused O’Neal trouble with his own wife and led to a further deterioration of the Shaq-Kobe relationship.

As the 2003-04 season began, basketball fans were treated to the spectacle of defendant Kobe Bryant regularly taking a private airplane to Colorado to appear during pre-trial hearings at the Eagle County Courthouse, then flying back to Los Angeles or other NBA cities to play in games that evening. As befits their client’s personality his legal team played for keeps, leaking salacious details about the accuser’s sexual history and finding former friends and classmates of hers to impugn her credibility. In the end, the accuser unsurprisingly determined that she did not want to testify in court and the prosecution’s case collapsed, though Bryant did apologize, acknowledging that the woman “did not and does not view this incident the same way that I did.” He also paid her an undisclosed sum of money to settle a civil suit she filed against him. Years later, in the era of MeToo and as Bryant attempted to launch a career in the film industry, this controversy would continue to bedevil him.

It was at this low point that Kobe began to rebuild his career and reputation. The Lakers had reached the NBA Finals that spring, but lost to a Detroit Pistons squad that played with infinitely more team chemistry and camaraderie. With the Shaq-Kobe partnership obviously ruptured, O’Neal was traded to Miami and the Lakers began the process of rebuilding, missing the playoffs in 2005 and then bowing out in the first round the next two seasons. Meanwhile a humbled Kobe was working his way back into the public’s good graces by playing hard and lying low. He won his first NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2007, by which point his sponsors had taken cautious steps towards once again using him in promotional campaigns. With the arrival of All-Star teammate Pau Gasol, the Lakers appeared in three consecutive NBA Finals from 2008-10, winning the title the latter two seasons with Bryant being named the Finals MVP both years. His last years in the NBA were riddled with injury as his aging body began to suffer from the reckless abandon with which he played, but in his farewell game he gave Lakers fans one final indelible moment, scoring 60 points and leading the team to a comeback victory in a year where the team once again missed the playoffs.

He also put on the uniform of his country, playing for Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament in 2007, then for the gold-medal winning teams at the 2008 and 2012 games. At both the Beijing and London games, Kobe was known as an ardent fan of his fellow USA olympians, making appearances at the swimming, gymnastics, and track and field competitions. He enthusiastically supported Los Angeles’s winning bid to host the 2028 games. He charmed foreign journalists with his fluency in Italian (from a boyhood spent in Italy while his dad played professionally in the Italian League) and Spanish (which he apparently later picked up). The reverence with which he was held by his fellow athletes and other celebrities was evident yesterday throughout social media and through various interviews on television and statements released online.

Though his infidelity and other family stresses caused a fissure in his marriage which nearly led to divorce, Kobe and Vanessa Bryant remained married until his death and had four daughters, whom by all accounts he adored as evidenced by their presence on his Instagram account. Gianna, 13, his second child, was apparently the one who had shown the greatest interest in her father’s sport, and it was traveling to one of her games that the two were killed (along with seven others, including John Altobelli, a successful baseball coach, and his wife and daughter). Sadly, the Bryants’ youngest daughter was only born this past June, and at seven months will have no memories of her father.

Kobe Bryant was a brash young man to whom too much came too soon, not an uncommon story in today’s celebrity culture. He reached the pinnacle of his profession early, then saw his whole carefully constructed edifice come crashing down through a series of ill-advised and selfish decisions. But where that story signals the end of other callow celebrities, Kobe Bryant confidently and painstakingly rebuilt his life and his reputation through hard work, sublimating his ego for the good of the team, and, it would seem, devoting himself to his family. It should have been a happily ever after ending for him, but was stolen away on a hillside in Calabasas one cold and foggy Sunday morning. It would have been rewarding to see him become a respected elder statesman for basketball like a Bill Russell or a Julius Erving, and it certainly looked like he was well on his way. He will be missed.


14 Responses to “Kobe Bryant, 1978 – 2020”

  1. I find myself far more saddened by this news than I had expected. Three of the passengers on the helicopter appear to be teenage girls, lives cut short way before their time.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  2. What about the woman he sexually assaulted?

    rpp (0ad0d8)

  3. What about the woman he sexually assaulted?

    She was not aboard the helicopter.

    JVW (54fd0b)

  4. Well done, JVW! Your post moved me. I knew so little (and still do) about the man, that I find myself edified today. Thank you.

    felipe (023cc9)

  5. Nice write-up. Had the incident in Colorado happened during #MeToo, I wonder how much success he would’ve met with in rebuilding his career and brand? I don’t think nearly as much as he did.

    Dana (aaddb1)

  6. Damn! Damn! Damn!…of all the possible passengers who could board a helicopter from Calabasas…

    urbanleftbehind (7c34e8)

  7. “ What about the woman he sexually assaulted?”
    __ _

    Kobe Bryant’s accuser showed up for her rape exam wearing underpants containing another man’s sperm, a startling discovery that defense lawyers called “compelling evidence”“ – CBS News

    harkin (d6cfee)

  8. JVW,

    This was a piece of excellent writing. Thoughtful, moving, and fair.

    norcal (42c8d0)

  9. Nice piece, JVW.

    Tough break– but hey, that’s the way the basketball bounces.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  10. Apparently they flew into a hill in the fog after requesting help from ATC. You would think that GPS would have prevented that kind of error, even in the fog.

    Kevin M (19357e)

  11. We’ll see how the ‘celebrity culture’ enshrines his memory. Time will tell.

    Frankly, this collective ‘celebrity mourning’ — a la Prince, Jackson, Diana, etc.,– is a little creepy– and say more of the empty lives of those weeping in the streets outside Staples Center than that of the dearly departed.

    Remember Roberto Clemente? Some of us do; many do not. ‘Nuff said.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  12. Kobe Bryant said he wanted to die young.

    “I wanna have my career, be better than Michael Jordan, and I wanna die young,” McGrady quoted Bryant as saying.

    “I just thought he was crazy for saying that,” added McGrady, a seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ.

    Both Nichols and McGrady emphasized later that Bryant, 41, changed his attitude after having children.

    Here’s the story of that flight: (from the New York Post, January 28, 2020, page 3 and part of page 2)

    Sammy Finkelman (083d4c)


    (NEWSER) – Kobe Bryant’s three surviving children have lost their father—but insiders say the basketball superstar tried to make sure they would never be orphaned. Sources tell People that Bryant, who frequently used helicopters to get around, would not fly in one with wife Vanessa. “He and Vanessa had a deal that they would never fly on a helicopter together,” a source says. ..

    …People’s source says the only helicopter pilot Bryant wanted to fly with was Ara Zobayan, who was killed in Sunday’s crash. Zobayan received special clearance to fly in foggy conditions Sunday. Fellow pilots tell the New York Times that Zobayan, 50, was “supersmart” and “supercautious” and they are baffled by the fact that pilot error could have caused the crash.

    Sammy Finkelman (02a146)

  14. At the very end the helicopter suddenly lost altitude.

    Was a part of the helicopter chopped off??

    All remains have been recovered but not all parts of the helicopter. Police are keeping people away from the site of the crash. When it happened, another helicopter was sent to hover over the scene of the wreckage and a paramedic lowered down (on a ladder?) but he reported back that all aboard had perished. They are getting most or all of what they take away using helicopters.

    LAPD helicopters had stopped flying.

    Sammy Finkelman (02a146)

Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.1929 secs.