Reports are flooding in of the untimely death of retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, around 10:00 a.m., California time, on January 26.
According to TMZ, at least three and as many as nine other people were traveling with Bryant and all onboard were killed. At this writing, their full identities have not been released. However, it is known that Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s wife, was not on the helicopter. Tragically, their daughter, Gianna, 13, was killed in the accident.
Joe and Pam Bryant, Kobe’s parents, also had two daughters, Sharia and Shaya.
Joe and Pam were pointedly not invited to Kobe’s final NBA game (after 20 years) against the Utah Jazz. In that final, now historic game, Kobe Bryant poured in sixty points before a wild and raucous hometown crowd, beating the Jazz in the last seconds of the game 101 to 96 — with Kobe, of course, hitting the go-ahead and winning shot.
More on Kobe’s family fissure below.
Not surprisingly, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant, like his son, is a retired NBA star. But, as the world watched for twenty years, Kobe was much more than a mere “chip off the old block.”
Sure, sixty-five-year-old Joe Bryant is, 6’9” tall; and that explains how Kobe got his six feet and six inches in height.
And, just as his son would do later (1996), Joe Bryant was drafted in the first round out of La Salle University by the Golden State Warriors in 1975. But through the constant “horse trading” — some say slave trading — for which all professional sports are famous (or infamous), Joe Bryant officially played his first NBA game as a Philadelphia 76er.
In 1979, Joe was traded to the San Diego (now L.A.) Clippers, where he played for three years. Joe Bryant ended his NBA career as a Houston Rocket in 1983. He then went on to play basketball in Europe for seven years.
After retiring entirely from playing, Bryant began coaching while still in Europe. He returned to the US and became the assistant coach at his alma mater, La Salle University.
In 2005, Bryant was hired as the head coach for WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks. In 2007, he was replaced by former Sparks coach Michael Cooper.
In a 2017 interview with Respect magazine, Bryant said of son Kobe,
I think as a parent, you figure he could play as long as he wants, as long as he enjoys the game. I think he made some comments about mentally…. he’s fine. He likes the challenge. It’s your body. Your body takes too long to recuperate. That’s the challenge.
As a fan, just watching him play and putting up all those points and playing at such a high level at such a great organization like the Lakers, Bryant said. I think that’s probably one of the important things.
These kids come out of school and they worry about being a number one pick, number two pick. I think it’s more important that you get with the right organization, and Kobe was able to do that and as you see, playing with one organization is really something special.
Sadly, in 2013, Kobe Bryant purposely, unilaterally, distanced himself from his family — specifically, his parents. At the time, he told ESPN,
Our relationship is shit. I say [to my parents], ‘I’m going to buy you a very nice home, and the response is ‘That’s not good enough’? Then you’re selling my shit?
These words were spoken as he described his parents’ attempts to sell $500,000 worth of Kobe “memorabilia” without his knowledge or consent.
He was kinder, however, toward his two sisters. To wit:
They’re very smart, college-educated. I’m really proud of them. They were able to get their own jobs, get their own lives, take care of themselves. Now they have a better sense of self, of who they are as people, instead of being resentful because they were relying on me.
Joe and Pam were apparently chastened by Kobe’s remarks, even ashamed of themselves: They issued this statement after getting caught trying to capitalize on and profit off Kobe’s fame, fortune and memorabilia behind his back,
We regret our actions and statements related to the Kobe Bryant auction memorabilia. We apologize for any misunderstanding and unintended pain we may have caused our son and appreciate the financial support that he has provided to us over the years.
Unfortunately, there are no reports of Kobe and his parents reconciling before today’s tragic events.
Here in Chicago, of course, the Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant comparisons will once again heat up. But, what’s the point? As great as he was, Kobe Bryant was, at best, only a facsimile or perhaps a very good carbon copy of the real deal, His Airness, Michael Jordan.
And, once the grieving process over Kobe’s tragic death has passed, I’m sure Jordan himself, if asked, would tell us that, yeah, Kobe could play, alright. Even won five NBA championships.
But! Michael Jordan won six championships, and would have won even more had he not quit to go play baseball for a couple of years.
Oh…and be assured that my preference for Michael Jordan over Kobe Bryant has absolutely nothing whatever to do with the fact that I am from Chicago!
In any event, Rest in Power, Kobe Bryant.