26th January 2020 marked a tragic date for the sport of basketball and undoubtedly the darkest day for Los Angeles Lakers, as Kobe Bryant lost his life along with his daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash.
The breaking news that came out from Calabasas, California in the morning of Jan 26 last year, took the world by shock, as a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter carrying Kobe and his 13-year-old girl Gianna had crashed in the hills amid dense fog.
The tragic news had perplex the fans as it was utterly unimaginable to believe that the beloved shooting guard has lost his life. Yet, that was indeed the truth, as an irreplaceable figure in world sports was no more.
Now, a year has been passed since the mournful incident and the world has paid its tribute in honor of Kobe Bryant, the “Mamba” who is revered as one of the greatest basketball players, if not, one of the greatest sportspersons to ever exist.
Kobe’s death and its impact on the NBA
It was a tough job to grip and accept the devastating news of Kobe’s death. Tears where shed, memories were mourned, his achievements were cherished by the sports fraternity. The five time NBA champ and two time Finals MVP, who became an austere figure for the Lakers as well as the league was suddenly no longer in existence.
Following the hapless incident, Lakers had postponed their Jan 28 game against Clippers, who were the first team along with Kings to play an NBA game since the crash, on 30th January.
NBA legends took the mic to tribute Kobe’s memory, while players would intentionally commit on-court violations- either a 24-second shot clock or an 8-second backcourt, a reference to the No. 8 and 24 Kobe had worn in his career. Dallas Mavericks retired their No. 24 shirt to honor him.
The NBA All-Star Game Most Valuable Player (MVP) award was also renamed to NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant Most Valuable Player Award to honor the four time winner.
Although Kobe’s relation was jaggy with his Lakers teammates and coaches, especially with Shaquille O’Neal with both players having multiple rough patches with one another during their careers, an emotional Shaq had broken into tears when remembering his former dressing room mate.
“I didn’t want to believe it,” Shaq said on TNT Special a couple of days after the crash, “I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while. I’m 47 years old. Lost two grandmothers, a [father], I lost a sister, and now I lost a little brother.”
“We’re not going to be able to joke at his Hall-of-Fame ceremony,” Shaq went on, “We’re not going to be able to say, ‘I got five [championships], you got four.’ …We’re not going to be able to stay ‘if we had stayed together we would have gotten 10 [championships]. Those are the things you can’t get back.”
Even outside of sports, Kobe and his memories were in continuation. During the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests in the US last year following the murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, Kobe’s ‘I Can’t Breathe’ t-shirt that he wore after the death of Eric Garner due to police brutality in 2014, became relevant once again as the same phrase was also uttered by Floyd before his death due to suffocation.
The way forward, in absence of Kobe
Kobe has become a worshipped figure in the Lakers dressing room, if not the whole league. The same player who guided many of his younger teammates such as LeBron James, Larry Nance Jr, Kyrie Irving and more, who have now become the stalwarts of the sport.
Following the 2020 NBA Championship victory in October, a decade after Kobe led Lakers to their previous championship triumph, LeBron tributed his former teammate and mentor, with the hope that his fourth Larry O’Brien as well as his fourth NBA Finals MVP award would make “Mamba” proud.
The ring that Lakers players received after winning the championship last season, included a special tribute to Kobe. The removable top of the ring, when opened, contains a Bryant salute, as well as a Black Mamba snake is engraved, which encircles the numbers of each player.
In November, the league revealed that Kobe Bryant’s inclusion into the NBA Hall of Fame, which was announced in April last year, would be taking place in May 2021, a due respect that the five-time champion, who achieved it all during his career spanning two decades with the Lakers, truly deserves.
Kobe Bryant’s absence will always be an unparalleled void that has been created within the minds of sportspersons and fans alike. A player of his stature, losing his life at an untimely age of 41, along with his little girl Gianna, who was also slated to become a future star in the WNBA, Kobe become immortal figure in basketball and his achievements are a benchmark of inspiration for the current NBA stars and those to come in future.
Rest in power, Mamba.