Kobe Bryant Remembered

One year later.

Jim Rome
January 26, 2021 - 10:34 am
Kobe Bryant

USA Today

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The joy of last night’s win and LeBron’s performance is also tinged with sadness. Because today is the one year anniversary of the helicopter crash in Calabasas that took the lives of John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, Christina Mauser, and Ara Zobayan.

I still remember getting the news one year ago today. I still remember the shock and the numbness that we all felt then. And one year later, it doesn’t feel any more real. One year later, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Kobe Bryant is gone.

I still remember seeing the tweet from TMZ and thinking it was a hoax. Thinking they’d been hacked. Because time and time again, we’ve seen quote unquote reports of celebrities dying and it turns out to be false.

You see something like that and then a few minutes or an hour later we find out that it was a hoax. Or a hack. And everyone goes back to everyday life.

But as time passed on that Sunday one year ago, and there was no retraction, and only more reports and more confirmations, it was clear that this wasn’t a hoax. This wasn’t a mistake. This was real.

It feels like a cliché, but this wasn’t supposed to happen. Something like that is not supposed to happen to Kobe Bryant.

It reminded me then, as it reminds me now, of when Pat Tillman died. Pat wasn’t supposed to die. Sure, we’re all human beings, we’re all going to die, but Pat Tillman was supposed to enlist and then come back home when it was over. The idea that he wouldn’t come home was impossible to fathom.

Just like it was impossible to fathom that Kobe Bryant wasn’t going to have another incredible series of chapters to his life. Kobe the girl dad, Kobe the coach, Kobe the mentor, Kobe the storyteller. 

Kobe was supposed to be invincible. And unlike a lot of other athletes who are directionless in retirement, Kobe had direction. He had focus. He wasn’t playing for the Lakers anymore, but he had started something new. Something just as important to him.  Something he had just as much passion and fire and drive for.  Which makes it all so much more tragic.

I still remember talking to him on this show a few years ago after he turned 38. We were talking about life and getting older.

That was a special conversation then and it feels surreal now. He wasn’t finished, he was just getting started. It was inspiring.

That’s part of the reason why one year later, it is still awful. It is still terrible. It’s still unbelievably painful for Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, and their daughters. I can’t begin to imagine the pain of the friends and family of the Altobellis, for Christina Mauser’s husband and family, or the friends and family of Sarah and Payton Chester, and the friends and family of Ara Zobayan.

This one was, and is, personal to Los Angeles. If you don’t live here or haven’t spent time here, if you aren’t a Laker fan, it’s hard to explain the connection between Kobe and this city. But it runs deeper than any relationship between an athlete and a city that I’ve ever seen before and probably will ever see again.

LA has had plenty of legends and icons. Way more than its fair share. Magic. Kareem. Shaq. Gretzky. LeBron. Sandy. Fernando.

But Kobe was different. I’ve never seen a city embrace an athlete or an athlete embrace a city the way Kobe loved LA and LA loved Kobe.

And it’s not like Kobe was from LA. It’s not like he was a local kid who grew up here. He’s from the other side of the country and spent some of his childhood on the other side of the world. But this was his home.

And it’s funny that a city and an area of the country that is known for being laid back was so connected with a guy who was so fierce.

I mean, we are talking ferocious. In games, in practice, in the weight room, everywhere. He was fierce as hell. And competitive as hell. As he once told Jackie MacMullan: "I could never understand why winning wasn't the most important thing to everyone. Why are you here then?"

As I’ve talked about a little bit in the past, I knew Kobe a little bit. We weren’t super close, but sometimes out of the blue, he’d hit me up and we’d go to Javier’s. And because we lived in pretty close proximity, I’d often see him around town. And not seeing him over the last year has been so weird, so surreal, in a year that has been so weird, and so surreal.

Over the last year, people have tried to explain Kobe’s connection to LA and his impact on the people who live here. And it still feels like it falls short. Here’s the best way I can sum it up: if you know, you know.

If you aren’t from here and weren’t here when he was here, no explanation is possible. If you were, no explanation is necessary. 

And that’s why this will never feel real. Right now, I’m thinking of one of the things that I thought about one year ago: it was a random Sunday morning in January. I’m not sure why that sticks with me so much, but it was just a random day. The things that we think could never happen, do happen. Everything can change in a moment. Even on a random day in January. But knowing Kobe, he would tell you there are no random days.  Embrace every day. All day. All in. The mamba mentality. It was shocking then. And incredibly, I’d argue it still hasn’t fully sunk in.

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