COLUMN: A legend lost, but Kobe’s legacy lives

Basketball fans around the area — and beyond — mourn and remember NBA legend Kobe Bryant after his recent, tragic death.

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  • | 3:17 p.m. January 29, 2020
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If basketball was a religion, Kobe Bryant would be amongst the small pantheon of its gods.

That’s why it was devastating when the news broke around the world Sunday, Jan. 26, that one of the NBA’s greatest talents had died at the age of 41. 

As my phone buzzed with notifications from an assortment of news outlets, and as texts from friends began to amass in group chats, I sat in disbelief as I read what was known at the time: A helicopter carrying the retired All Star had crashed in Calabasas, California. Then the news got worse, as we later found out that his second-oldest daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others perished in the crash.

Not only had the world lost a sports icon who transcended the game of basketball, it also lost a young girl budding with her father’s talent, as well as people like Orange Coast College baseball coaching legend John Altobelli, and his wife, Keri. Nine people total died in this tragedy, and it’s important not to let the others be forgotten in the shadow of Bryant.

But throughout Sunday afternoon I sat and watched interview after interview of NBA coaches and players trying to keep their emotions in check and desperately find words to convey their feelings. The problem is there are no words.

I never got a chance to see Bryant play in person, and I never got a chance to meet him, but as someone who loves the game of basketball I understand the sense of loss that many are feeling. Windermere Prep boys basketball coach Brian Hoff said it’s an unreal, empty feeling.

“At first, you know, no one wants to believe it,” said Hoff, who was lying down for a Sunday afternoon nap when he heard the news. “I go check Twitter and I’m constantly looking at things, and at first I saw TMZ reporting it and I was like, ‘Let’s wait and hopefully it’s just a rumor.’ It’s just unbelievable and it’s just unreal, and it’s just so sad.”

 While Hoff found out in the comfort of his home, Dr. Phillips boys basketball coach Ben Witherspoon was at a place that was supposed to be “The Happiest Place on Earth.” 

“I go check Twitter and I’m constantly looking at things, and at first I saw TMZ reporting it and I was like, ‘Let’s wait and hopefully it’s just a rumor.’ It’s just unbelievable and it’s just unreal, and it’s just so sad.”

— Brian Hoff, head boys basketball coach at Windermere Prep

There, waiting in line with his family for a ride at Magic Kingdom, Witherspoon watched his phone with complete concentration — he couldn’t move. He shared the news with his wife, who grew up in the Philadelphia area and was obsessed with Kobe, Witherspoon said.

It was difficult to process, especially since Bryant was the one who had the biggest impact on him as a young basketball player. 

“For me, as a kid, it was Kobe — playing as Kobe on video games, having Kobe jerseys and having Kobe shoes,” Witherspoon said. “He’s been such a part of our lives because we were introduced to Kobe when he was 18 years old — I was 13 years old at that time, and that’s the height of the beginning of a basketball career for a kid.”

Many in the basketball community seem to have stories to share about Bryant and how he inspired them or impressed them with his game. That’s the case for Windermere High School boys basketball coach Mark Griseck.

He remembers the one time when he and his son, Trey, sat in on a Lakers’ practice that was held at Rollins College when they were in town to play the Magic a few years ago. Of all the things he remembers, Griseck recalled just how much Bryant stood out on the court.

“At one point I turned to Trey and said, ‘It’s amazing that the greatest player in the world is working harder than anyone in the gym right now’ — he was just amazing,” Griseck said. “First of all he stretched for 40 minutes and then he did his individual workout, and he shot game shots for an hour and 20 minutes.

“His level of focus on free throws — it was like Game 7, down one,” he said. “It was just amazing to watch him work.”

There’s no way to bring Bryant back, but his legacy and impact on the game of basketball will carry on.

So next time you pull up for a shot — whether it be with a crumpled ball of paper or an actual basketball — let out a “Kobeee” for old times’ sake. I know I will.


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