It’s been three years but it still feels like it was yesterday. On Jan. 26, 2020, Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were tragically killed in a helicopter crash on their way to a basketball tournament.
It was a foggy Sunday morning and it was just hours after the Lakers picked up a thrilling road victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Not only did the Lakers win, but LeBron James passed Bryant as the third leading scorer in NBA history, in Kobe’s hometown no less. It was a night for celebration, and even Bryant himself took to Twitter to congratulate James by saying: “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother 💪🏾 #33644”
At the time, life was good if you were an L.A. fan. The Lakers were playing great basketball, James was making history in the purple and gold and Bryant was there to support him while also thriving in his off-the-court life, which included coaching Gianna’s youth team.
No one knew the above tweet would be the final one Kobe ever sent out.
I remember exactly where I was that morning when the tragic news came out. It was my friend’s birthday and we were going out to brunch in Long Beach. I was driving in the carpool lane on the 405 freeway when I received a text saying “is this real?” with a link to a TMZ Tweet about the helicopter crash.
I was so in shock that I came dangerously close to veering left and crashing into the center divider on the freeway. My whole body went numb and my immediate response was that I needed to find out if it was true.
The eeriness of the whole situation was unsettling as even though TMZ put out that original report, it still took hours before anyone knew what happened. Was it just Bryant that was killed? Were any of his other family members involved? At one point, someone put out a report that his former Lakers teammate Rick Fox was also in the helicopter, which thankfully was not true.
By the time we got to the restaurant, everyone had found out that something had happened, which made for a meal that I wish I could forget but never will.
The setting was beautiful, it was a chilly winter day but the sun eventually came out and we were right on the water in Long Beach. None of us could appreciate that though as we all sat there for hours with tears coming down our eyes and hardly any words being spoken or food being eaten. Everyone was constantly checking their phones for updates, which only made things worse as pictures and videos of Kobe and his daughter circulated across Twitter.
As tough as that was though, it helped start the healing process for all of Los Angeles. Everyone, and I mean everyone, that was in the same restaurant as me was feeling the same pain, and that can be said across the city, state, country, world, etc.
L.A. in particular has never felt as close to an athlete as it did with Kobe. He was drafted by the Lakers at age 17 and dedicated his entire 20-year NBA career to the organization. He won five championships but more importantly than that, he gave his all every second of every day and that is why the city loved and appreciated him so much. Kobe Bryant was L.A.
But then the grieving process began. The whole city and sports world came together and there’s no doubt that the fact that we all went through it together helped all of us.
There were different tributes, murals, etc. all across the city, including L.A. Live outside of Staples Center where fans met every night for weeks to write messages to Kobe, share stories and pay their respects. Athletes across various sports also wore Bryant jerseys as their own way of paying tribute.
The Lakers took the court a few days later all wearing No. 8 or 24 Bryant jerseys and even though they lost to the Portland Trail Blazers, not a soul cared.
Kobe was on everyone’s mind that night and the same can be said for the 1,000-plus days that have followed. Sure, life has gone on and everyone eventually got back to their daily routines, which is what Kobe would’ve wanted. But that doesn’t mean his impact and legacy were forgotten.
Kobe Bryant himself once said “It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you—or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.”
That is truly how Bryant lived his life and it has really inspired others, including myself, to do the same. So even though we’re three years past that devastating day, Kobe’s impact on L.A. and the sports world continues to be as great as ever, and that is something that will never change. Mamba Forever.
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