On the fourth anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death, Yahoo Sports NBA compiled this collection of our work covering the Los Angeles Lakers legend in the years before and after the tragic helicopter crash.
Click through each link to remember fully one of the league's greatest legacies.
Kobe bombed on dudes. Kobe soared, and savaged, and sneered. Kobe climbed mountains because they were there, reduced them to rubble because he could, and kicked whatever rocks remaining on his way to the next monument.
Vintage Kobe dunks — no scare-quotes needed — were breathtaking and dope. Let's watch some.
Feb. 8, 1997: Kobe vs. the Slam Dunk Contest
No, the '97 Dunk Contest isn't remembered all that fondly by competition connoisseurs, especially in the age of LaVine vs. Gordon. But rewatching the final-round dunk that won Kobe the title — a not-quite-there-but-still-pretty-cool approximation of Isaiah Rider's "East Bay Funk Dunk" — you can see the future spreading out before Kobe. You can see the shape of things to come.
The calm, almost matter-of-fact approach from the left wing. The stylish arc of the ball as he brings it from under his right leg up over his head, and the extra snap his wiry frame puts into slingshotting it through the rim. The pause for dramatic effect after landing; the Bruce Lee light flex. The ease which he bathes in the adulation of the crowd. The proto-jaw-jut as he walks back toward his competitors.
As many have noted, Kobe has long sought to cultivate an identity as the game's most maniacal, focused and diligent worker. All that rigorous study and craft-honing mattered a great deal to the legend he became ... and yet, so much of what brought about fans' connections to Bryant — the pursuit of spotlight and victory, the athleticism, talent and drive that would fuel his search, the penchant for showmanship, the willingness to play the villain — was already there in that first trip to All-Star Weekend. ... more
— Dan Devine, April 13, 2016
Taking this many shots is, of course, totally insane. And there's certainly an argument to be made that literally taking 40 more shots than your closest teammate — Jordan Clarkson went 6 for 10 for 12 points, and Russell went 4 for 10 for nine — is a pretty ugly thing.
That said, this is what literally everyone in attendance at Staples Center and everyone watching from their homes all over the world both expected and wanted to see. It was hilarious, and invigorating, and so patently bonkers as to have been endearing from the very early going. It was Kobe giving himself over to his basest on-court impulses despite injuries and age having taken from him the physical capacity to make good on them any more, and the basketball gods saying, "Oh, fine, all right, just this one last time."
As endings go, it's also about as far away as possible from Kobe hitting the deck against the Golden State Warriors in 2013, reaching back for his Achilles, and knowing nothing would ever be the same. Yes, that devastating injury started a chain of events that would see Kobe miss the bulk of the next two seasons, and, yes, while he managed to stay mostly healthy this year, he was one of the least effective big-minute players in the NBA when he did get on the court. But you know what? Screw it. Who cares? None of that mattered on Wednesday. Not even close. As the man himself said earlier this season, "It’s the ugly moments that create the beauty at the end of the film." ... more
— Dan Devine, April 14, 2016
Asked about it in 2016 — how it happened, how it felt, what he remembered 10 years down the line — Kobe said that scoring 81 points against the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 22, 2006, felt like “a blur.” Luckily, cameras were rolling. Footage exists.
There’s proof of Sasquatch, a game so monstrous that only Wilt Chamberlain’s sainted 100-point performance tops it in NBA history. We can go back, revisit, and sharpen what’s gone blurry:
When you run the tape back, you find yourself slack-jawed by that Raptors defense — second-worst in the NBA that year, all soft zones and slow feet and half-hearted reaches — that allowed Kobe to build up a head of steam that would turn him into a runaway train, hellbent for the basket with no brakes in sight. Yes, Jalen Rose famously caught the brunt of the beating, but everyone in Raptors red — Morris Peterson, Joey Graham, the rotating bigs who failed to protect the rim, the immortal Pape Sow — got a taste, as Kobe sauntered anywhere he wanted on the floor.
Loping drives to the lane for short runners, reverse layups in what passed for traffic, pull-up jumpers off the bounce, quick releases off screens: he opened his bag and found everything he needed, right there at his disposal. The Lakers needed all of it; despite Kobe posting 26 by halftime, L.A. somehow managed to fall behind by 18 in the third quarter to a team that had neither the interest nor the wherewithal to defend the game’s most potent scorer. So he outscored Toronto by himself, 27-22, in the third quarter … and then did it again, 28-19, in the fourth. (The Lakers scored 31 in the final frame. Lamar Odom made a 3. Kobe assisted.)
Twenty-eight makes on 46 shots, 7-of-13 from deep, 18-of-20 at the stripe, good for the second-highest-scoring performance in NBA history. (And, depending on how you see things, maybe an even more impressive one than No. 1.) What makes it the signature Kobe moment, though, isn’t the sheer awe-inspiring fact of 81. It’s this:
“I should have had 90 points or more. I missed two free throws after making 62 straight. I had some open looks. I had some really open looks that I missed. I could have had more. There’s a lot of easy opportunities I missed. I think 100 is possible. I absolutely do. If I hadn’t sat out those six minutes in the first half, maybe I would have had it.” ... more
— Dan Devine, Aug. 23, 2018
The way Mike Krzyzewski tells it, “the world had a lot of confidence in playing the United States” when his tenure began as head coach of the U.S. men’s national basketball team. The mystique of the Dream Team was gone, erased by the fearless generation of international talent that the 1992 squad had inspired. Three losses in the 2004 Summer Olympics hastened Krzyzewski’s hiring; even then, the U.S. lost to Greece in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championships.
That all changed when Kobe Bryant entered USA Basketball training camp in Las Vegas.
There are many reasons why the 2008 U.S. men’s national team is still remembered so fondly, 10 years after winning a gold medal against Spain at the Beijing Olympics. There was a group of young players that has since changed the face of basketball. There was the cast of veterans who counteracted the European style of play and popularized the pace and space of today’s NBA. But Bryant was the match that lit the so-called “Redeem Team” afire.
“He doesn’t f*** around,” says Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, an assistant under Krzyzewski on the last three Olympic gold medal-winning teams. “He doesn’t care if it’s summer, winter, fall or spring. He does not take any prisoners. That’s what you’re looking for as a coach.” ... more
— Ben Rohrbach, Aug. 24, 2018
When Kobe Bryant retired, Magic Johnson called him the greatest Los Angeles Laker ever.
That is all you really need to know about Bryant’s basketball career. That Magic — the embodiment of Showtime, the man who sewed the Lakers into the fabric of Los Angeles — truly believed Bryant was the best to ever wear the forum blue and gold for a franchise that featured half of the 15 best players in NBA history is as high a compliment as a player can receive. But there is so much more to the legend of Kobe.
Tragically, we are grappling with his legacy now, as Bryant died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41, four years into a retirement that included an Academy Award and less than 24 hours after LeBron James passed him for third on the all-time scoring list. It is surreal to believe the man who often appeared immortal on the court — right up to the final game of his 20-year career — is gone. We are so used to seeing our basketball heroes grow old with us. Bill Russell presents the Finals MVP award named in his honor every year. Michael Jordan remains entrenched in the game as a team owner. The NBA is a family, and it lost one of its best. ... more
— Ben Rohrbach, Jan. 26, 2020
He walked like him, talked like him, taking “Be Like Mike” to a whole other level. It was almost an annoyance, because we wondered what the real Kobe Bryant was like, not the Jordan facsimile.
There were all these physical similarities and other attributes that couldn’t be ignored, gifts he possessed that were, in some ways, equal to Jordan’s.
But it wasn’t until he stepped from Jordan’s shadow, perhaps upon realizing his story could never eclipse Jordan’s fairytale journey, that Bryant became his full self. He carried that full self into the second half of his basketball career and into his post-playing career as a filmmaker, basketball dad and someone who could cultivate future careers with his Mamba Academy — the place he was headed to at the time of his fatal helicopter crash early Sunday morning.
There were so many “Next Jordans,” but Bryant was the only one who had the game, the health and the audacity to chase him so brazenly. ... more
— Vincent Goodwill, Jan. 27, 2020
Ask almost any young player in the NBA how he got there, and the conversation will inevitably turn to Kobe. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are two budding Boston stars respectively from Atlanta and St. Louis. That is a cross section that could not be further from Los Angeles. Yet, Kobe was their god — their Jordan.
They modeled their games and their mindsets after him. So, when Bryant dedicated a pair of his “Detail” vignettes for ESPN to Tatum and Brown during the 2018 playoffs, they listened, perhaps to a fault. The highest compliment two Celtics prodigies could receive came from a Laker, and they were unafraid to bask in the glow of his purple and gold. Tatum watched Bryant’s breakdown 25 times in less than 24 hours.
I asked Brown once what he envisioned for his career. His response: "I think a lot of it is just up to me. How bad do you really want it? Everybody wants to be Kobe Bryant, but nobody wants to wake up at 4 a.m., so how bad do you really want it?" Mamba Mentality lives because Kobe passed it on before he passed on. ... more
— Ben Rohrbach, Jan. 27, 2020
I grew up a Boston Celtics fan. We were raised to loathe the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant was roughly my age. He made his first All-Star appearance my senior year in high school. He won three straight championships while I was still searching for a purpose in college. Jealousy can turn into hate, you know.
We in Boston were indoctrinated to frame Kobe’s rise in ways to fit our narrative, not his. He was a bad Michael Jordan impression. Shaquille O’Neal carried him. He was selfish. A bad teammate. A chucker. The 2008 NBA Finals only confirmed our biases. Paul Pierce was my guy. We could explain away 2009 and 2010. Kevin Garnett was injured, then Kendrick Perkins. Besides, Kobe was 6-for-24 in Game 7.
I started covering the NBA at the start of the 2010-11 season. The Celtics and Lakers were still among the favorites, somewhere behind LeBron James’ superteam in Miami. When the Lakers came through Boston, I would camp out by Kobe’s locker after each game. He was a fascinating subject, commanding a media scrum like nobody I have seen since. I imagine this was what it was like to cover MJ, only with less access.
I came to respect Kobe, if only because he was so captivating. I came to realize that the hate I felt was in fact fear. It was frightening facing Kobe. That turned to respect. I always had a hard time reconciling that with the 2003 rape accusation and subsequent apology. I still do. I feel for his wife and surviving children. The death of Gianna Bryant at her father’s side has hit me in ways that are haunting and profoundly sad.
Sportswriting in the wake of death is an odd existence. You work in a playground, and then this — reality. You publish retrospectives and follow with stories told through the eyes of those he impacted most, mostly setting aside your own history with the subject, because who cares how you feel? Tell his story, not yours.
But this one is for me. I like telling stories and combing through statistics, and telling stories through statistics is cathartic in a way I can’t quite explain. I have never been able to find the balance between what the stats will tell you — that Kobe was relatively inefficient, at least by comparison to other all-time greats, and likely a little overrated as a result — and the fear you felt rooting against Kobe. It is time to fix that. ... more
— Ben Rohrbach, Jan. 29, 2020
At around 5 p.m. the night before he died, Kobe Bryant was on a daddy-daughter date.
The retired Lakers star strolled through a swanky outdoor Newport Beach (California) mall a few miles from his home with 3-year-old daughter Bianka at his side. They paused to watch fish swimming in a koi pond and played together alongside a fountain before Kobe took Bianka for a treat.
Paradiso Gelato barista Denis Apugliese served them a cup of hazelnut ice cream and marveled at the man Kobe had become. Apugliese saw a competitor who had softened in retirement, a celebrity who was gracious and kind to everyone around him, a father who treasured spending time with his daughter.
“After I rang them out, they sat down at a corner table directly in my sight,” Apugliese said. “His little daughter was eating gelato and running around the table, and I saw him smile and play around with her as well. That was nice to see. He looked like he enjoyed every second he had with his kid.”
When Apugliese came home from work that night, one of the first things the 22-year-old told his family was that Kobe had come by to order gelato. The next morning, Apugliese’s brother woke him up to tell him that Kobe had died in a helicopter crash.
“That’s impossible! I just saw him!” Apugliese responded. Then he checked his phone and saw that his brother was right.
“It hit me pretty hard,” Apugliese said. “I didn’t know him personally, but I had just seen him with his little girl. I just kept imagining how that little girl was feeling knowing that her father was no longer here.”
Much has been written over the years about Kobe chasing Jordan, feuding with Shaq or battling the Celtics, but some of the most poignant stories about the Lakers legend originated away from the basketball floor. He has touched the lives of everyday people from Los Angeles to Toronto, from Philadelphia to the Philippines.
As the world readies to say a final goodbye to Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, during a memorial service at Staples Center on Monday, here are nine more stories of regular people whose lives Kobe impacted. They range from a Disneyland cast member on his lunch break, to a car service driver craving companionship, to a freelance photographer hoping to boost the spirits of his cancer-stricken mother. ... more
— Jeff Eisenberg, Feb. 23, 2020
The shock of Jan. 26 returns every time the faces of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, flash across a screen in smiles and winces and smirks and mean mugs. It is still hard to believe they are gone, even now, four weeks after they and seven others died in that helicopter crash. Those faces, so full of live and vitality, they are frozen in time.
In a way, however it heartrending it may be, they are still here. Bryant’s achievements ensured they will live forever in the minds of millions who never met him and the hearts of those who loved them. They may be mere memories now, but there is some saving grace in a career chronicled on screen.
We have these images to look back on, to hold onto, to carry on. So, here, on the eve of a memorial service in honor of the Bryants and their friends at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, we collected dozens of the most iconic photographs of the future Hall of Famer in a slideshow tribute to one of the game’s greats, whose career introduced us to Gianna and her to a passion that bonded them.
Take solace in the shock of those flashing faces giving way to an appreciation that endures. ... more
— Ben Rohrbach, Feb. 23, 2020
Jineen Williams moved to Los Angeles from Wisconsin in 2015 and was determined to see Kobe Bryant play in an NBA game. Williams played basketball her whole life and even played Division II basketball at Concordia College in Minnesota. Unfortunately, Williams never got to a game. The consolation prize? Having seen Bryant in retirement passing along his “Mamba Mentality” to his daughter and the next generation of players.
“Being able to meet him and get to hear that the most important part of his life had been these last three years of his retirement — being able to be there for his family, be present, spend time with Vanessa, raise his girls, coach Gigi, all that,” Williams said. “To be able to be there and witness that side of Kobe, means so much more to me.”
It’s long been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. We all were witnesses to the great moments of his 20-year career: the jumping on the scorer’s table after winning an NBA championship, the buzzer-beaters and the final game as a Laker when he scored 60 points.
— Krysten Peek, Jan. 24, 2021
The bright orange pullover with the white logo kept calling her name.
Eb Jones, the WNBA’s former lead for content and influencer strategy, pored through pages of league apparel on the Fanatics website. The hoodie kept beckoning. It was a simple pop of color. It came in youth, women’s and men’s sizes. And it clearly advertised her message.
Jones didn’t expect millions more would feel the same call she did that day in 2019. And she certainly never believed it would be because Kobe Bryant wore it, his hoops-loving daughter Gianna beaming by his side. Or that he did so in the last public photo before his death.
“Everybody in the world respected Kobe, and that image of him with his daughter being the last one — I don’t believe in coincidences. I feel like things happen for a reason,” Jones told Yahoo Sports. “It’s so extremely unfortunate that we lost him because of all the wonderful things he wanted to do for the league. But if God felt it was time for him to go and his time from here was gone, he made sure that he even made a statement going out.”
Bryant’s legacy will always begin on a basketball court. When the Los Angeles Lakers legend stepped off the court for the final time, he began building an additional one. And when he died one year ago, his impact on the women’s game went into overdrive through a hoodie that Jones was able to get into his hands. ... more
— Cassandra Negley, Jan. 24, 2021
There was no way to know an emotional and symbolic week would culminate in Kobe Bryant’s death, the biggest basketball tragedy of the year, but nothing has been the same from that third full week in January 2020.
A gut punch followed by a tsunami followed by an earthquake that still hasn’t settled one year later.
The basketball world has been in mourning for quite some time since news of a helicopter crash in California that took the lives of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others on a Sunday morning.
On a train from Philadelphia to New York City, passengers murmured to themselves as news started to spread. Strangers began gazing to one another, searching for an unspoken confirmation that their texts or online stories weren’t nasty rumors, that the story was true: Kobe Bryant was gone.
It didn’t feel real, the week was already exhausting enough, and besides, Kobe Bryant smirks in the face of death and takes a fadeaway.
The NBA has always been about the story, the mythology, and this didn’t compute. ... more
— Vincent Goodwill, Jan. 26, 2021
“To heal, we must remember. And it’s hard sometimes to remember. But that’s how we heal.”
That was incoming President Joe Biden last week honoring the nation’s coronavirus victims, numbering more than 400,000. The pandemic’s relentlessness makes a tragedy that came before — the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven more in a helicopter crash — feel at once eons away and just yesterday. How has it been a year since Jan. 26, 2020? And how has it been only a year? Time churns.
Combing through Yahoo Sports NBA’s hundreds of breaking news, feature stories and remembrances of the fallen Los Angeles Lakers legend over the past 366 days is to travel to another era. Mourners embraced outside Staples Center. “Kobe” chants filled arenas. Almost 20,000 attended their public memorial service.
To feel death around us night after night and not to share mourning is to become numb. Then, the pain of Vanessa Bryant’s voice cracks us open again. Beaming photos of Kobe and Gianna pluck our heartstrings. A father and his daughter. Promise broken on impact. That frozen moment thaws, their memory still fresh. I do not pretend to know how the victims must have felt, how their survivors still do, but we feel nonetheless.
One year has passed since the death of Kobe Bryant. He was not five into his retirement. He would be a year younger than Tom Brady today, another lifetime ahead of him. Gianna had all of hers on the horizon. As calendars continue to turn, our grief may age and soften. But it still feels hard. Let’s remember. Let’s heal.
Part I, Jan. 25-31, 2020:The loss of Bryant, a #GirlDad, shakes the world from Los Angeles to Milan
Part II, February-March 2020: Vanessa Bryant’s emotional, moving eulogy at public memorial
Part III, April-October 2020: First-ballot Hall of Fame nod, birthday tributes and Lakers' 17th NBA title
— Ben Rohrbach, Jan. 26, 2021