By Luke Mich
“[It] was one of the most upsetting and tragic stories I’ve heard in my life,” Walter Bonds, junior guard for the SVC men’s basketball team, said about the passing of Kobe Bryant.
On Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers tragically passed away in a helicopter crash. En route to Gianna’s youth basketball game, the helicopter crashed miles short of its destination in Calabasas, California, which may have been caused by low clouds and poor visibility. As news spread of his untimely death, most of the world was left in shock and mourning as they received the news.
“Although I never met Kobe or even saw him in person, I felt personally affected by his passing,” Bonds reflected.
Bryant, born in Philadelphia, attracted notice from basketball scouts early with his impressive stats in high school. According to ESPN, Bryant turned his high school team from a 4-20 record his freshman year to state champions three years later. Declaring for the NBA draft after high school, he was selected 13thin the first round by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1996 draft, where he would spend his entire 20-year professional career. Bryant underwent some growing pains, but he quickly developed into one of the most talented shooting guards of all time.
“[He] is the greatest model of hard work and dedication to [the sport] that the game of basketball has seen,” Bonds stated.
“Kobe Bryant is the greatest model of hard work and dedication to [the sport] that the game of basketball has seen.” - Walter Bonds
Beginning around the turn of the 21st century, Bryant started to cement his status as a basketball great. He won three straight titles with renowned big man Shaquille O’Neal from 2000 to 2002, and Bryant would win two more titles in 2009 and 2010. Additionally, he won the MVP award in 2008, and he was Finals MVP for his last two titles. Bryant set multiple records for the league and Lakers franchise, such as most games played for one team, most points for the Lakers, team record for most points in a season, and most steals, minutes played, steals, field goals made, and three-pointers made by a Laker. One of his most impressive accomplishments was his 81-point game in 2006 against the Toronto Raptors, the most in a single game since 1962.
Bonds stated that the latter was his most memorable Bryant moment.
“I’ll always remember his 81-point game. I’ve never seen such an incredible offensive display, and that performance will be one for the ages,” he said.
Even though he and his Lakers team struggled near the end of his career, Bryant still added to his awards and achievements. He played for the U.S. basketball team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, winning gold both times. To conclude his basketball career, he scored 60 points in his final game, a come-from-behind win at home.
“He gave the game everything he got and will forever be one of the fiercest players and competitors ever. He has a certain fire about him that no one will ever obtain,” Bonds stated.
After his career, Bryant focused more on his family and charity work. He and his wife Vanessa had four daughters, and his second daughter, Gianna, followed in her father’s footsteps in beginning to play basketball. Unsurprisingly, Bryant taught her and even coached her team. Bryant also noted as a practicing Catholic, regularly attending Sunday mass, and according to one of the priests at his local church, Bryant received communion with Gianna hours before his death.
"He gave the game everything he got and will forever be one of the fiercest players and competitors ever. He has a certain fire about him that no one will ever obtain." - Walter Bonds
“He made it clear that life was bigger than just basketball, and his position as a father, husband, and coach made him a great role model for myself and many others,” Bonds said.
As for what Bryant would best be remembered for, many would cite his unreal hustle, talent, and relentless work ethic.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver stated that he is “one of the greatest players in the history of the sport,” whereas Reuters news said he is “arguably the best player of his generation.”
“[Kobe] truly wanted to make a difference and make others around him better […] Kobe Bryant will be best remembered for being an incredible player on the court, and a desirable family man on the court,” Bonds said. “He will not be forgotten anytime soon."