Five observations highlighting Kobe Bryant’s greatness

Kobe Bryant, hands together prayer-style, thanks the Staples Center crowd at his final game, April 13, 2016.
Lakers star Kobe Bryant pays homage to the crowd at Staples Center following the final game of his career on April 13, 2016.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers guard Danny Green, like so many people of a certain age, geographical demographic or preference, rooted for Michael Jordan. He was such a fan, he resented Bryant for being a mimic.

Those feelings have since been rendered silly, replaced by an appreciation of just how hard it was to get so close.

“Growing up, it was kind of a weird love/hate relationship. I was a Jordan fan. And if you were a Jordan fan, you kind of didn’t like that Kobe was so much like him,” Green said. “As you get older, you start respecting that man, understanding what it takes and how hard it is to be like Mike. He was the closest thing to it. And you understand his craft, respected it.

“As you play against him, the battles we had, the interactions, you become a fan just by nature, regardless of what rivalry, whether you like Mike over him or [LeBron James] over him. You respect that man, what he did, what he built here.”

Dismissing Bryant because he wasn’t Jordan, because he wasn’t the absolute best, feels like such a blown opportunity to celebrate his career while it was happening. It’s something that’s come up in conversations, as have these five other observations from a week that changed the NBA forever:

He was real person, not just an IG handle


Bryant came before basketball internet, meaning he didn’t have to worry about things like “his brand” on social media when he entered the NBA, and that he didn’t have Instagram as a place to comment or send subliminal shade. While he would eventually be at the center of so many basketball arguments on places like Twitter, it didn’t dominate his personality.

One of the reasons so many reporters were able to share so many touching stories about Bryant is because they spent real time talking with him, interacting, arguing, — exchanging real emotion in ways that don’t get convened the same when a social media post qualifies as interaction.

Had Bryant entered the league 10 years later, it wouldn’t have been the same.

His stats are ridiculous

Julius Erving. David Robinson. John Stockton. Bill Russell. Steve Nash. Walt Frazier. Kevin McHale. Wes Unseld. Chauncey Billups. Chris Mullin. Paul Arizin. James Worthy.

Kobe Bryant missed more shots in his NBA career than any of those players attempted.

It’s just an incredible amount of volume, so many years as a player who always wanted to take the big shot. While maybe annoying to teammates and critics, viewed with the power of hindsight, Bryant’s audacity deserves celebrating.

Defending Kobe

Like Green said, Lakers fans had to listen to the Bryant slander when it came to Jordan. So they pushed back. They had to defend him when he was held responsible for the end of the Shaquille O’Neal-Bryant partnership. They rode with him when MVPs went to Allen Iverson and Nash. And when LeBron James was ascending, Lakers fans argued that Bryant was still the better player.

In a pitch-perfect tribute, the Lakers and their fans celebrated the lives of Kobe Bryant and the eight others who died in Sunday’s helicopter crash.

Jan. 31, 2020

And then there was the sexual assault allegation, an event that either turned fans off or galvanized them even stronger behind him.

Bryant was not someone you could be dispassionate about. This week, that’s been more obvious than ever.

Kobe and the WNBA

Whether Gianna Bryant ever made it to the WNBA — and that would’ve been an impossible projection to put on a 13-year-old, supporters of women’s basketball have taken Bryant’s death extra hard.

Bryant’s interest in sharing his knowledge of the game through the Mamba Sports Academy seemed endless, with his daughter and her AAU team the recipients of a basketball genius’ musings.

On a larger scale, there had been hope that Bryant’s interest in women’s sports would help further legitimize the WNBA. But in death, people have seen how invested Bryant was in the sport of basketball — regardless of gender — and that should help open some more eyes about the league.


The speech

In speaking with people in the back hallways of Staples Center on Friday, there was a small sense that people would be able to move on now, because somehow, on a night so sad, people managed to enjoy a hard-fought basketball game.

A big part of that was LeBron James, who eulogized Bryant and helped transition the crowd from a state of mourning to one of celebration.

“I’ve been telling that man he should be running for president,” one teammate said on the way out of the building.

The way Bryant’s death united Los Angeles in grief, James helped unite people in a slight sense of healing — maybe the toughest test he’s ever faced.