Parents should be our role models without a doubt. Our superheroes, on the other hand, could be fictional comic book characters or Hollywood-inspired saviors.
Kobe Bean Bryant was a hero to many people.
He had the ability to bring people together with his incredible skills and unrelenting drive. He brought so much joy in our lives with the way he competed in the athletic arena. Was he flawed? Of course he was. That’s what made him so uniquely qualified to be a hero. All heroes have flaws. But Kobe was more than just a hero. He was a massive star. A supernova. He exploded onto the scene illuminating the entire basketball world before burning out and fading away.
Kobe’s resume reads like a Marvel Cinematic Universe script: Five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, 2008 MVP, 18-time All-Star, 11-time first-team All-NBA, two-time scoring champ, Olympic gold medalist in 2008 and 2012. His basketball legacy lives on through several Southern California-bred ballers. You see Kobe in James Harden’s footwork, Russell Westbrook’s determination, Paul George’s defense, DeMar DeRozan’s fadeaway jumper and Kawhi Leonard’s midrange pull-up. They all grew up watching Kobe. Kyrie Irving wasn’t from L.A., but he patterned his game after Kobe. Kyrie’s creativity around the basket is an homage to the man known as The Black Mamba.
On the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant and eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. They were on their way to the Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park for Gigi’s basketball game. TMZ, as it almost always does on terrible tragedies, broke the news to the world that Kobe Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash. Other media outlets later confirmed the grim news. The initial reaction was shock followed by extreme sadness and grief.
I got a text message from a friend, telling me Kobe died in a crash. I immediately turned on the TV and saw images of the crash. My first thought was “I wonder if Gigi was with him” because I had a feeling they were either coming back from an AAU game or heading to it. It turned out to be true, which made the whole thing even more tragic. I have two boys: Jorel, 19, and Miles, 16. Miles competed in the same Mamba Sports Academy for an AAU basketball tournament back in 2018. A parent’s worst nightmare is losing a child. The Kobe crash hit close to home.
My wife wondered why I wasn’t posting a lot of Kobe tributes on Facebook. My response was I didn’t need to. I have a walking, talking, breathing and living tribute in my youngest son. Miles Bryant Huerto has Kobe’s Mamba Mentality and he will continue his legacy.
Kobe’s death was felt all throughout Los Angeles like an aftershock. Random people began showing up near Staples Center to pay their respects to the man who created so many great memories in that building. The Grammy Awards were being held on the same night, but Kobe’s death definitely overshadowed music’s biggest night. Only a supernova could trump a historic night at the Grammys where 18-year-old Billie Eilish became the youngest winner of Album of the Year and swept all the major awards.
The Grammys wasn’t the only event Kobe preempted. NBA games were also affected. The Jan. 28 game between the Lakers and Clippers was postponed out of respect to the Lakers organization. Former and current NBA players were visibly shaken when they found out he’s gone. Doc Rivers was overcome with emotion during his press conference. LeBron James was seen wiping away tears at the airport. Carmelo Anthony said he had trouble staying focused. Dwyane Wade posted a tearful message on Instagram. Tracy McGrady stopped several times to wipe away tears as he talked about Kobe on ESPN’s “The Jump.”
The Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs each took a 24-second violation to honor Kobe. He wore 8 and 24 with the Lakers. Other teams followed. Trae Young, the rising young star of the Atlanta Hawks, wore a Kobe’s No. 8 to start the game. In that same game, Young and Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker each took 24 shots.
Shaquille O’Neal posted messages on social media on the day of the crash. But the world didn’t really see how he was truly feeling until he made his first appearance publicly on the “NBA on TNT” show where he could barely hold it together reflecting on his complicated relationship with Kobe. We’ve never seen Big Fella hurt like this. Tears coming down his eyes as he talked about the pain he’s feeling while dealing with the loss of his former Lakers teammate.
“I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while.. it definitely changes me.”’@SHAQ on the loss of his brother, Kobe. pic.twitter.com/dM5i0DDgGK
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) January 29, 2020
Shaq said he considered Bryant as family. Called him his “little brother.” Sure, they had their petty squabbles but at the end of the day they respected each other and cared about each other. Shaq and Kobe will forever be connected at the hip for winning three straight NBA titles with the Lakers. They will go down in history as one of the greatest “1-2 punches” in NBA history. Just ask Shaq.
Shaq said Kobe embraced his kids like they were his. He did the same for Kobe’s daughters.
I personally didn’t know Kobe. I did get a chance to cover one of his games as a member of the working media back in 1998 when the Lakers played Michael Jordan’s Bulls at The Forum in Inglewood. The Lakers won the game. Afterwards, I went to the Lakers locker room for postgame interviews. I remember standing next to Kobe, who was sitting in his stool. He was only 19 years and still had an afro. He talked about the game and how much it meant to him to beat his idol Jordan. It was a short interview. I don’t even remember getting a chance to ask him a specific question. That was the closest I got to him.
I was in attendance when he made his NBA summer league debut in 1996 at the Long Beach Pyramid. He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well that night but the place was absolutely electric. He gave a glimpse of his immense talents. I watched Kobe’s last game in 2016 from the comforts of my living room. Both my sons was watching with me. We were all cheering him on as he got to 40 points, then 50 points, and finally 60 points.
It was the most incredible individual performance I have even seen from a pro basketball player. It took him 50 shots, but didn’t matter. Nor it should. Kobe took us for a ride that mirrored his entire career. Before he burned himself out, he exploded for 60 points in the final game of his 20-year NBA career. It was great theater. An Oscar-worthy performance.
Joel Huerto is the editor and publisher of OneManFastBreak.net and a lifelong L.A. Lakers fan.