SAN FRANCISCO -- When the news filtered out that the most vigorous of earthly creatures, a man whose spirit and deeds insinuated that Superman is indeed possible, had died so suddenly in the prime of life, shock hit the NBA and the planet like a sledgehammer to the gut.
Can’t be Kobe. His first name alone had become a synonym for imperishable.
And please, no, one of his daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, too?
A helicopter crash Sunday morning, in foggy conditions near Calabasas, 45 minutes northwest of Los Angeles. There were no survivors.
Kobe Bryant was 41 years old. He was four years removed from the NBA -- and about one year into a post-career that was defrosting millions of hearts outside the cocoon that is Laker Nation, where he always was and forever will exceed mere legend.
Those of us outside Laker Nation, beyond this generation of greater LA, can’t comprehend that region’s fixation with Kobe. He was, to them, all things. The one-word summation to end to all arguments about basketball and, well, life. He was the greatest of the greats that have passed through the franchise -- and infinitely superior to the great currently and wearing the colors.
LeBron never will come close to the space occupied by Kobe.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court -- and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement.
“He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.”
The NBA, as a league and a business, was knocked off its feet. The Warriors were practicing at Chase Center when they were informed, and coach Steve Kerr immediately halted the workout.
“We were incredibly saddened and shocked to learn about the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, earlier today in the Los Angeles area,” a Warriors statement issued in the afternoon. “Kobe was one of the iconic players in the history of the NBA and touched fans in every market, including the Bay Area, for 20 years. His unquenchable desire and drive to be the best elevated him to a level that few have ever reached and enabled him to leave a legacy that will be celebrated for generations. "We extend our thoughts and prayers to his family, the entire Lakers organization and his legion of fans around the world.”
The San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors opened their game with each team taking a 24-second violation -- Kobe wore No. 24 for the second half of his career. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, eyes red and rolling in moisture, struggled to address the media before facing the Magic in Orlando.
There was Kobe the basketball player, an indomitable force whose ferocity was his signature. He embraced the idea of destroying opponents. He gave himself the nickname, The Black Mamba, after the ultra-poisonous snake in the movie “Kill Bill,” in which the name was code for assassin. That’s the on-court mentality Kobe possessed.
In the final game of his 20-year career, Kobe scored 60 points. That he took 50 shots was beside the point on a Lakers team that finished 17-65. It was a relentless and conclusive attack that would leave an indelible, and appropriate, memory.
Kobe entered the NBA as an 18-year-old and over the course of his career also had an 81-point game on 46 shots, a 65-point game on 39 shots, a 62-point game on 31 shots, a 61-point game on 31 shots and a 55-point game on 29 shots.
There were five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVP awards, 18 consecutive All-Star Games, 15 All-NBA Team selections, 12 All-Defensive Team selections and, surprisingly, only one MVP award.
Yet the numbers and accolades barely graze the persona. Kobe exemplified relentless drive and irrational confidence, and a competitive nature that never rested. Though he holds a few NBA records, the one that best explores his psyche was set in, of all games, the 2011 All-Star Game.
The game was at Staples Center in Los Angeles, which by then was Kobe’s backyard. He scored 37 points, on 26 shots, in 29 minutes. The record he set, as a 6-6 guard mind you, was most offensive rebounds in an All-Star Game. He had 10.
Raiding the offensive glass is the ultimate act of aggression, and Kobe didn’t care that it was an exhibition game. The thought of his death at such a young age, his internal drive still at full flame, is devastating.
This hurts now and will ache forever.