Sunday took a cruel and unexpected twist when news broke that Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crashed in California, killing all nine people on board including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. As millions across the world mourn the death of an icon, the DC Sports Staff takes a moment to reflect on its favorite moments that defined the “Black Mamba’s” incredible time on Earth.
Kobe Bryant was a man who always felt larger than life, and my favorite Kobe moment is proof that he was. The day was March 7, 2010, when Kobe and Orlando Magic forward Matt Barnes had spent the entire third quarter of a tight game jostling and exchanging choice words. After a made Laker basket, Barnes was set to inbound the ball, but decided to pump-fake the ball within an inch of Kobe’s face. Did Kobe flinch? Not one bit. He didn’t even blink. He just kept staring at Barnes as if nothing had happened. This moment is so iconic because it showed that not only was Kobe one of the best scorers of all time, but he was also tough as nails. Rest in peace to a man who always embodied mamba mentality. Also, look up “Kobe doesn’t flinch” on youtube. It’s epic.
Growing up I despised Kobe, but his cold-blooded competitiveness and big-game dominance made the revamped Celtics-Lakers rivalry at the turn of the decade all that much more entertaining. Kobe was a once in a lifetime offensive talent, he was one of those players that always knew how to get to his spots and manipulate any defender on mid-range post-ups. One of the most skilled players of all time, Kobe’s game will be copied by young players for countless years to come. If I had to pick a single favorite Mamba moment, it would be Kobe telling Dwayne Wade that he “loved it” after the Heat guard fouled him hard during the 2012 All-star game and broke his nose.
Kobe Bryant speaking to Luka Dončić in Slovenian will be my lasting memory of a man whose impact extended far beyond the realm of basketball. Kobe carried with him a willingness to learn and the ability to truly become embraced with different cultures, people, and subjects. At an early age, he was forced to learn Italian when his father moved to Rieti in Italy to continue playing basketball at a professional level. Not only did Kobe learn how to speak the language, but he embraced the culture, becoming versed in the game of soccer while fostering a love for A.C. Milan. Countless times, he visited the training facilities of some of the most renowned teams in the world, such as Paris Saint-Germain and Barcelona, bonding with the likes of Neymar, Messi, and Mbappé while still open to learning new concepts on the beautiful game. He also spoke Spanish and proudly displayed this trilingual gift in his day-to-day life, particularly with longtime teammate Pau Gasol. It’s these reasons and many others that make Kobe’s death so hard to accept. Fly high Mamba.
Kobe Bryant has had so many great moments throughout his career that it makes picking your favorite Kobe moment almost impossible. My favorite Kobe moment would have to be the final game of his career when he dropped 60 points on the Utah Jazz and carried the Lakers to victory. That game reminded us why we all loved Kobe Bryant. For one night, for one game, we got to see the Black Mamba in all of his glory. Kobe was one of the greatest competitors in the history of professional sports, and on that night, we got to see the Mamba mentality one last time. For a while in that game, it looked like the Lakers were going to lose in Kobe’s final game. You know who didn’t think they were going to lose? Kobe Bryant. Want to know why? Kobe is one of the GOATs, and was not going to finish his career with a loss. So he put the team on his back one last time and made sure he was going to finish as a winner. For one more moment, Kobe Bryant was the best player in Basketball. “I don’t want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant.”
Five titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 18 All-Star appearances, one regular-season MVP and countless incredible moments give you a lot to work with when talking about one of the greatest to ever touch the court. Kobe’s commitment to playing the sport of basketball at its highest level for so many years was truly inspiring to players, coaches, fans and every little kid who would scream Kobe whenever they shot a basketball in their driveways. But if I were to pick just one memory, it would be the 2016 All-Star game, one of Kobe’s final moments on the big stage along his farewell tour. No, he didn’t explode for 50 points or perform many highlight-reel plays during this game, but it allowed him to get the recognition he deserved from everyone he had touched over his 20 years in the league. An image that will never leave my mind is that of LeBron guarding Kobe beyond the 3-point line, both of them smiling and taunting each other in what would be one of the last times they met on the court. That picture alone embodies all that Kobe brought and will continue to bring to the sport despite his tragic passing. The love, the competitive fire and most importantly the passion Kobe showed will live on through that moment and that picture. All that’s left to say now is thank you.
What can I say about Kobe that hasn’t already been said? He’s a legend, a champion, the ultimate competitor, a father, a son and a great friend to so many. For me being a Celtics fan, he was the guy that you loved to hate because he was just that good. My most personal memories of Kobe were watching him face off with my hometown Boston Celtics in both the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals. He was The Guy that you had to worry about at all times because no lead felt safe when Kobe was on the floor. Ultimately, the Celtics and Lakers split those series with Kobe winning Finals MVP in the second meeting. The satisfaction of beating him in 2008 was crazy because as a young basketball fan, Kobe was the most recognizable figure in the game, almost godlike. And seeing the Celtics beat him was amazing because of how good Kobe was. He ultimately got his revenge two years later by winning his fifth and final title. That series featured Kobe at his absolute best, which at the time was terrible, but looking back now, it really was incredible. I hated him but I respected the hell out of him and I do to this day.
The moment I’d like to mention is one that Mamba created following his days on the court. Whether you have or haven’t yet seen Bryant’s short animated film, “Dear Basketball,” I implore you to do so as soon as possible. It won the award for Best Animated Short Film at the Academy Awards ceremony in 2018, which made Bryant the first professional athlete to win an Oscar. My first time watching “Dear Basketball,” I thought it was beautiful in a way that made me want to shed a tear. But in the wake of Bryant’s passing, the somber, dramatic tone that it puts forth strikes deeper now than it ever did before. Today, much of what he says sounds like it could be his own eulogy. “I played through the sweat and the hurt, not because challenge called me, but because you called me,” Bryant says to the game of basketball. “I did everything for you, because that’s what you do when someone makes you feel as alive as you made me feel.” Basketball will never be the same without Kobe, but I mean that in both the sad way, and the optimistic way. Even though he is gone, the lasting impact that he will have on the players, coaches and fans whose lives he touched will affect basketball forever. “As a 6-year-old boy deeply in love with you, I never saw the end of the tunnel. I only saw myself running out of one.” Mamba out.
Associate Sports Editor
Unlike Kobe’s 20-year career, I’ll try to keep this brief. Everyone knows the accolades and on-the-court accomplishments – five titles, MVP, 18 All-Star games, 81 points – but I think Kobe’s second act was just as impressive as the first. After retiring in 2016, Kobe adapted the “Mamba Mentality” to his life at home, as a father. No image depicted this better than the shot of him and his daughter, Gianna, sitting behind the bench at Gampel Pavilion and watching Geno’s Huskies go to work. He said he had stepped away from the game in retirement, but Gigi’s passion brought basketball back into his life and he loved seeing the game through her eyes. Looking back at it now, with both of them gone, the image is absolutely heartbreaking, but it embodies everything Kobe was about: basketball, supporting women’s hoops and his family. Though we’ll never hear his Hall of Fame speech, or see Gigi suit up in the blue and white like she was destined to, Kobe left behind a legacy that few others have or will.