Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash Sunday.
A story came out about how, after losing, Kobe threw away everyone’s “Kobe” sneakers. Said they couldn’t wear them because they were too soft.
I didn’t really like Kobe. But a world without him is a worse place. During his career he was a scorer, a killer. In retirement he taught people how to play, how to have confidence, how to win. On Sunday, many players, inside the NBA and out, found out they lost their friend. Then they went out — on TV, in front of thousands of people — to play the game that gave them that friend. Sunday was a bad day.
In 2017, Kobe made a short film called “Dear Basketball,” which evolved out of a letter he wrote for The Players’ Tribune announcing his retirement. It’s short, about four minutes long. It has interesting animation and it won him an Oscar. You can find it on YouTube.
It tells the story of Kobe’s relationship with the sport. How, when he was a kid, he idolized his father, Joe Bryant, and how he grew into the type of player he always dreamed of being. How basketball gave him everything, and he gave everything to basketball.
The film was noteworthy because it signaled the end of one of the greatest NBA careers of all time, but also because it let people know Kobe wasn’t just going to fade into the background after he retired. He wasn’t just going to be Paul Pierce, a talking head sitting in a studio wearing aggressive glasses. He wasn’t going to be Michael Jordan, mostly living life in obscurity until it was time to make an appearance. He was going to keep shaping the sport he loved.
He did it by mentoring players, teaching them the moves he used over so many years; by going to games, and heckling Luka Doncic from the sidelines in Slovenian; by coaching his daughter and promoting women’s basketball, which is what he was on the way to do when he died. Kobe was doing retirement the same way he played — prolifically, with excellence and with grace.
The game where Kobe scored 81 points is also on YouTube. It is over two and a half hours long and it is much more entertaining than his short film.
I’m not going to remember Kobe as a producer. I’m not going to remember Kobe as an analyst. I’m not going to remember Kobe as a mentor.
I’m going to remember Kobe as the man who went out on Jan. 22, 2006 and started shooting until he had scored more points than anyone else in the last 50 years.
Rating: “Dear Basketball” gets 5 out of 7. Kobe’s 81 point game gets 28 out of 46.