It doesn’t feel like a year. I can’t even fathom the idea that 365 days ago I sat in this very same office chair, at this very same desk, and saw the news of Kobe Bryant‘s passing from a tragic helicopter crash that also took the life of his daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
Disbelief. That is the number one word that I associate with that day. Grief, sadness and concern for Vanessa Bryant all followed in the days after. Disbelief. There is no possible way that someone bigger than life itself could lose his life in a freak helicopter accident.
Days, weeks and months went by — it still didn’t feel real. The world underwent a complete change, with every single person on this planet going through unprecedented times — it still didn’t feel real. The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Championship, honoring Kobe Byrant — it still didn’t feel real. The Los Angeles Dodgers quickly followed suit with their first championship in 32 years — it still didn’t feel real.
365 days later and it still does not feel real. Every time I think about it I think of one thing:
My favorite Kobe Bryant memory.
We have had some great memorial pieces go up today in honor of the Black Mamba. Skyler Trepel put together a fantastic feature that included quotes from people in Kobe’s life. Casey Ahmed penned his own personal letter to the Black Mamba himself.
Both of those pieces are fantastic and while I would love to put together a similar memorial piece, the only thing I can think about today is this specific moment. A moment that had very little to do with Lakers basketball itself — yet encapsulated perfectly what Kobe Bryant meant to this city. What he meant to the world.
It has nothing to do with any of the five championships. Nothing to do with the MVP. The 81-point game. The all-star games. It has to do with his final game, but not in the traditional sense.
I did not watch Kobe Bryant’s last game live. Why? I was at Dodger Stadium to watch the Dodgers take on the Arizona Diamondbacks. My girlfriend bought me two tickets in the all-you-can-eat left-field pavilion. I think I ate at least five Dodger Dogs that day.
The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 3-1. Alex Wood pitched seven innings of one-run ball. Adrian Gonzalez hit a homer. Kenley Jansen worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning. None of that was the main focus.
Constantly appearing on the big screens at Dodger Stadium were highlights and live look-ins at Kobe Bryant’s final game against the Utah Jazz. I will never forget when the Dodgers showed the end of the game in-between innings and all of Dodger Stadium erupted.
They weren’t chanting “Let’s go Dodgers”, or “Yasiel Puig”, or “Kenley Jansen”. 44,000 people, in unison, at a baseball game across town, erupted, “KO-BE BRY-ANT! *clap clap clap clap clap* KO-BE BRY-ANT! *clap clap clap clap clap* KO-BE BRY-ANT!”
I have been to three Dodger playoff games. One in the NLDS in 2014, one in the NLCS in 2018 and Game 1 of the 2017 World Series. The only time I have ever heard Dodger Stadium louder than that night was when Justin Turner hit the two-run home run in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series.
And that is just how much this city loves Kobe Bryant.
Kobe dominated the NBA and brought championships to the city of Los Angeles in an era that, quite frankly, was terrible for LA sports. The Dodgers were embroiled in the Frank McCourt days, making the playoffs just four times from 1989 to 2007 (they only won one playoff game in that span).
The Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Raiders had packed their bags and left town after the 1994 season. The Kings had a handful of playoff berths from 1994 to 2010, only making it out of the first round once.
The Clippers… well they are the Clippers and were never embraced as LA’s team and were terrible back then. There are more Clipper fans in Orange County than there are in LA County, that’s for certain.
The only success in the area came from the then-Anaheim Angels and the Anaheim Ducks, who won their respective championships in 2002 and 2007. But that is not LA.
In the dark ages of LA Sports, there was one unifying beacon of light: Kobe Bryant. His hard work, determination and will to win at any cost resonated with every single person who is trying to make it in this town or simply has the grind of the daily 9-5.
Nothing showcased that more to me than when I showed up at a Dodger game in 2016 and instead got a memorial to the legendary Kobe Bryant.
His legacy will live on forever. Los Angeles will always be Kobe’s town.