The loss of one of the legends of the game of basketball yesterday, still relatively young at 41, hit home here in The Bahamas in more ways than one.
There were initial reports that former teammate of Kobe Bryant, Bahamian Rick Fox, was among those who perished with him in a helicopter crash outside of Calabasas, California, yesterday. However, that news was later cleared up as Fox’s safety was confirmed, but millions of fans the world over, including here in The Bahamas, are today mourning the loss of one of the all-time greats of the sport of basketball. Kobe “Black Mamba”, “Bean” Bryant is dead at 41. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna, known as “Gigi”, was on board and died with him along with seven others. He leaves behind his wife Vanessa and three other daughters, and is also survived by his parents Joe (a former professional basketball player) and Pam Bryant.
On Twitter, Bahamian Chavano “Buddy” Hield, the sharp-shooting two guard of the Sacramento Kings who absolutely idolized Bryant growing up, simply said: “This (expletive) Hit Different right now….” The other Bahamian in the NBA, DeAndre Ayton, a center with the Phoenix Suns, couldn’t be reached.
Diehard Lakers’ fan and Bahamian entertainer and radio personality Inigo “Naughty” Zenicazelaya said to this writer personally: “Sheldon, you and I have had the opportunity to talk about basketball for a number of years. You can attest that as much I as I love Magic Johnson and as much as I love Shaq and Kareem and loved and respected Jordan, Kobe was everything to me. I gravitated to this kid from an early age. He reminded me of Jordan. I followed him from a rookie and witnessed the relentless work ethic and the relentless pursuit of excellence and the will to win. Everything that embodied a basketball player, Kobe had that and more. His legacy got a bit tarnished because of the era that he played in but Kobe always seemed to transcend that. Kobe left the Lakers in a good place and he left basketball in a good place. He challenged the younger generation to move the game forward. That’s the last thing that he tweeted to LeBron, and I just look at the irony of it now. Tragically we lost Kobe, and sadly in all of this we lost his daughter Gianna who was a basketball prodigy. This is so tragic. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families involved and I’m really praying for his wife Vanessa and his other daughters. He was a great human being. I am truly overwhelmed by this. What a warrior! What a winner!”
Like Naughty, hundreds of Bahamians grew up as fans of Bryant and the Lakers. Even fans of other teams respected his competitiveness and admired his greatness.
It’s still all so surreal. Just Saturday, he was passed on the all-time scoring list by LeBron James, and it was done in Bryant’s home town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as the Los Angeles Lakers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, 108-91. Bryant played his entire 20-year professional career with the Lakers, entering the National Basketball Association (NBA) through the 1996 NBA Draft as the number 13 selection of the Charlotte Hornets. He was traded to the Lakers on draft night and went on to win five NBA titles with the Lakers, two NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) Awards and a league MVP award along with many other accolades and honors. Bryant was an 18-time NBA All-Star, a four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, an 11-time All-NBA First Team member, a nine-time NBA All-Defensive First Team member and a two-time NBA scoring champion. He is the Lakers all-time leading scorer.
Bryant was recognized as a top 50 player in NBA history and is highly regarded in many circles as one of the top 10 NBA players ever.
James said after passing Bryant for third on the all-time list on Saturday that the things he saw Bryant doing on the floor he admired and wanted to be a part of prior to entering the league.
“He (Bryant) said that if you wanted to be great at it (basketball), you had to put in the work. As I got drafted, I continued to admire him, winning championships. As a competitor, just seeing the work ethic that he put into the game, he has zero flaws offensively,” said James after the game against the Sixers in Philly on Saturday. “Here I am now here in Lakers uniform in Philadelphia, in the same place I met him during all-star weekend (2002). It’s just all so surreal. Things happen organically and it’s not suppose to make sense. They just happen. I’m just happy to be in any conversation with Kobe Bryant.”
Wow. Less than 24 hours later, Bryant was dead. James and the Lakers will host the Los Angeles Clippers tomorrow, in a game that will certainly be centered around Bryant’s untimely passing.
The man they were chasing on the all-time scoring list Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said on Sunday: “It’s very difficult for me to put in words how I feel about the loss of Kobe Bryant. I just want to send my heartfelt regrets and prayers to his family. My thoughts are with you guys. Kobe was an incredible athlete and leader. He inspired a whole generation of leaders. He was one of the first to leave high school and come straight to the NBA, dominating the game and becoming one of the best players that the Los Angeles Lakers has ever seen. This loss is just hard to comprehend. Rest in peace young man.”
Abdul-Jabbar said he knew Bryant for about 30 years – since he was about 11 or 12 years old.
Among his accolades, Bryant won Olympic gold with the USA’s “Redeem Team” in Beijing, China, in 2008 and added another gold in London, England, in 2012. His 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 remain the second-highest point total in a single game in NBA history behind Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point performance in 1962; his 33,643 career points kept him in third place on the all-time list, ahead of his idol Michael Jordan who he he passed in December of 2014, until current Lakers’ star James surpassed him on Saturday. James is now third, former Utah Jazz star Karl Malone is second with 36,928, and Abdul-Jabbar still leads the way at 38,387.
In his final game of his career, Bryant struck for 60 points in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, helping the Lakers defeat the Utah Jazz, 101-96. Afterwards, after giving his farewell speech, Bryant simply proclaimed: “Mamba Out”.
Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal, who won three NBA titles with Bryant with the Lakers, and formed one of the most dynamic duos in basketball history, said on Twitter: “There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant. I love you and you will be missed. My condolences go out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I’M SICK RIGHT NOW.”
Arguably the greatest player of all-time Michael Jordan said: “Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply – and took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball.”
Legendary player Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who later took up separate roles as coach and front office executive with the Lakers, said on Twitter: “As I try to write this post, my mind is racing. I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie (Johnson’s wife) and I are heartbroken.”
Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban, who witnessed many battles with Bryant and his beloved Mavericks, said on Twitter: “We can never forget how precious life is – how those who are special to you are, and never let them forget how deeply you love them. RIP Mamba. May your memory be a blessing. To all of my friends, thank you. Each of you have shared part of yourself with me and made my life better. I have tried to do the same. It hurts that it takes a tragedy to remind us of our mortality.”
Tributes poured in from all over the NBA and sports in general as the horrid news spread yesterday.
Bryant’s greatness transcended basketball, touching all sports and athletes worldwide. Legendary quarterback in the National Football League (NFL) with the New England Patriots Tom Brady and soccer great Neymar of Brazil were among those offering words of condolence and tributes to the fallen Lakers’ star yesterday.
Given what he did for the game of basketball, how popular he was worldwide, his off-the-court interests, business operations and ventures, entertainment value and widespread appeal among others, Bryant’s death is regarded as one that is certainly bigger than basketball and, by extension, sports in general.
He will be missed. Mamba out.