Today marks the two-year anniversary of the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi. Kobe, Gigi and seven other passengers were on board a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter headed to Ventura County for a basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, on Jan. 26, 2020, when the helicopter crashed into the side of a mountain in Calabasas, California. All passengers were killed upon impact.
I remember where I was when the news broke. It was a little past noon EST in NYC, and I was in my apartment jet lagged from a 36-hour trip to France for NBA Paris 2020. When the news of a helicopter crash in Calabasas flashed on a CNN crawl, I thought ‘how tragic.’
A few moments later, details started to emerge and I started receiving text messages. It was a whirlwind. “Kobe was on that chopper and he’s dead” one message said. The names started trickling in on CNN, and I reached out to contacts who were hearing the same thing.
It was surreal as I had just seen Kobe and Gigi about a month earlier at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. I was covering the Atlanta Hawks versus Brooklyn Nets game. This was the game where the video of Kobe breaking down the finer points of the game to Gigi went viral.
As you can see, the Mamba mentality is nowhere to be found on this court tonight
— Out of Bounds (@SI_outofbounds) December 22, 2019
The rest of that NBA season, before the COVID-19 pandemic, was a celebration and tribute to Kobe.
All-Star weekend in Chicago was the NBA’s showcase to honor Kobe. His spirit and presence were felt in every event, media session, and, of course, during the game.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced that the All-Star game MVP award would be permanently named after the Los Angeles Lakers legend.
Players talked glowingly of the influence Kobe had on them and what he meant to them individually. For this era’s top players, he was their Michael Jordan.
Kobe’s playing career was from 1997-2016, so he overlapped with LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and others.
Two years since his death, it feels both as though no time has passed and a lot of time has passed. That’s what the rudimentary realities of life and a global pandemic will do.
There are so many unknowns with the premature death of Kobe and Gigi. What would his post career into storytelling ultimately lead to? What else could he have created? How good could Gigi have gotten at basketball? What would her future family life look like?
We met in 2017, on the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival, and Kobe introduced me to his wife, Vanessa, eldest daughter Nathalia and, at the time, his middle daughter, Gianna, aka Gigi. He was debuting “Dear Basketball,” his love letter to the game for which he won an OSCAR the following year. I asked him: Why animation to tell this story?
He said, “when drawing by hand you get to see all the imperfections. It’s like building anything. The perfection comes from the imperfection and the mistakes that you make.”
There were a lot of mistakes made. But he, more than any person or athlete I’ve ever met, had a keen understanding of the process and the journey as the thing that matters.
Vanessa Bryant lost a husband and a daughter. Natalia Bryant, Bianka and Capri lost a father and sister. We know Kobe was going to be great in this “second act” and if you believe what has been written, said and if you ever observed her, Gigi Bryant was her father’s daughter and destined for greatness too.
For Vanessa and her daughters every day, not just Jan. 26, is a painful reminder.
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