The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, along with seven others has been impactful. It has touched people all over the world, with the epicenter being in Los Angles where Kobe spent his remarkable 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. We have all seen the media reports showing thousand of people gathering at the Staples Center, which has been turned into a shrine for Kobe and Gianna. It is known as “The House that Kobe Built” since it opened in 1999 as Kobe’s career was just beginning to blossom (he was drafted in 1996).
But Kobe Bryant holds a special place in the heart of the greater Philadelphia region also. Though we loved to hate his talent as an adversary to our Sixers, Kobe was a Philadelphian. His father, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant was born here and attended John Bartram High School and LaSalle University. Kobe is one of the greatest to ever play the game, but his dad was no slouch either. After a stellar college career, he was a first-round draft pick in the NBA, playing nine seasons including a stint with the 76ers from 1975-79. He was on the team with Julius Erving, Doug Collins and George McGinnis that lost in the Finals to the Portland Trailblazers in 1977. They should have won that series! Some of you will remember the “Philadelphia, We Owe You One!” commercials the following year.
Kobe was born in Philadelphia too, in 1978, during Joe’s stint with the Sixers. And after continuing his post-NBA career playing in Italy, Joe settled his family back in the Philadelphia area in 1992 as Kobe was entering high school. Kobe’s basketball career at Lower Merion High School is legendary, breaking scoring records for Southeastern Pennsylvania (more than Wilt Chamberlin) and culminating in a PA State Championship in his senior year. He was universally recognized as a generational talent and was drafted into the NBA right out of high school as the 13th overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft.
Kobe clearly lived up to these high expectations. His list of accomplishments and accolades in the NBA are well documented. They include five NBA Championships, two Finals MVP awards, one League MVP award, 18-time All-Star, 4-time All-Star Game MVP, Slam Dunk Champion and two Olympic Gold Medals, to name a few. These achievements on a basketball court speak for themselves. In his immediate post-basketball career, he authored a poem and short animated film titled “Dear Basketball,” for which he won an Academy Award in 2018, illustrating the depth of his human spirit.
But the dominating reaction to this helicopter crash that took nine lives, including Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, has little to do with his basketball prowess. It’s about cherishing every minute of our lives and every person in it. We are reminded that tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. Watching Shaquille O’Neal cry like a baby saying “I just wish I could say one last thing to him” is gut-wrenching. So, hug your child or spouse today and tell them you love them. Call the friend or sibling you’ve been estranged from for too long over something stupid. Your chance to do it tomorrow may not come.