Kobe Bryant: His quest for redemption
“A huge hole has been cut out of Los Angeles’ heart,” and basketball fans worldwide are grieving, said Bill Plaschke in the Los Angeles Times. Kobe Bryant, one of the most revered athletes of his era, died this week at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash that also killed his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others. Over his 20 seasons with the Lakers, the five-time champ and 18-time All-Star was idolized for his ferocious will to dominate, which continued right down to his 60-point final game in 2016. His maniacal perfectionism, said Jackie MacMullan in ESPN.com, “was both admirable and at times unsettling,” and even teammates as great as Shaquille O’Neal found him difficult. “I could never understand why winning wasn’t the most important thing to everyone,” Bryant once said. “Why are you here then?”
Bryant could come off as a “loner,” said Louisa Thomas in NewYorker.com. He grew up in Italy, where his father, Joe, played pro basketball, and modeled his game after Michael Jordan’s—the patented fadeaway jump shot, the ferocious, acrobatic drives to the basket. The cerebral Bryant sometimes spoke openly about how he could be “warped by his overwhelming competitive instincts.” He didn’t, however, like to speak about the 2003 sexual assault allegation by a 19-year-old hotel employee in Colorado. The case was dropped after Bryant paid off the accuser and she refused to testify. Around this time, Bryant created his “Black Mamba” alter-ego. “Kobe” became the “flawed human being,” while Black Mamba “channeled his rage and darkness into devastating power,” scoring an astonishing 81 points in one 2006 game.
In retirement, Bryant turned to fatherhood and storytelling, said Jemele Hill in TheAtlantic.com. In 2018, Bryant won an Oscar for Dear Basketball, an animated short about “the game he loved”; he also created novels, podcasts, and a TV show to teach kids a championship mentality. He was deeply devoted to his four daughters and embraced women’s basketball, perhaps in part because Gianna looked like a “mini-Kobe” on the court. If you watched Bryant at his peak, defying gravity, said Charles Pierce in Esquire.com, “you can appreciate the terrible irony that he died in a fall from the sky.” His life will be judged by how deeply people believe that “he corrected his grievous fault through the life he lived afterward.” ■