The NBA and world of sport remembers Kobe and Gigi Bryant

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A year on since the passing of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and seven other passengers in Calabasas, the NBA paid their respects with a raft of homages from players both past and present. Monday saw the Brooklyn Nets’ point guard, Kyrie Irving, arrive at the Barclays Center donning Kobe’s iconic number 8 jersey. The game against Miami Heat was played a day before the year of Kobe’s passing, but the reverence for Bryant was such that Irving, who had idolised the Lakers legend, was still moved to mark the occasion.

Kyrie wasn’t alone in making his admiration for Bryant known. Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green were among several players to fulfil their media commitments through Monday and Tuesday and reminisce on their first impressions when lining up against Kobe.

The thing that stood out most for me [about playing Kobe that first time] was his pre-game warmup. Why is he working out at 4 o’clock [16:00] and it's a 7:30 [19:30] game? By the time I finished watching his workout I had missed my lift, my treatment time - you know as a young guy you get the early slice and once you miss it it's over. I had missed everything and I think for me personally that was just a moment like in my life where I was like yo, like I'm sitting here watching Kobe - nothing else mattered to me at that point.

Draymond Green

 

He was just testing me. He was just testing to see what I was made of, he was testing to see what kind of mentality I had, and he was just testing to see who I was as a person and I stood for. I guess I wanted to gain his respect so much at that moment.

Carmelo Anthony

 

- I tried to emulate how he moved, down to what he said to you guys in the media, to how he worked out before the games, what he watched, I would really try to study it as much as possible. I would never have told him that but as a younger player I was really just copying everything he did.

Kevin Durant

The complete scorer

His repertoire of pump-fakes, fadeaways and ability to deliver in ‘clutch’ made him an assassin on the court, but as is made abundantly clear when discussing Kobe, this forms only part of the mythology. The spectre of 5 NBA Championships, more than 33,000 points and 2 finals MVPs would ordinarily stand as the defining moments of a 20-year career - yet this isn't the case with Kobe. His professionalism, work ethic and a mentality channelled with a singular commitment to extracting every ounce from himself somehow overshadows this all. For all the glorification of the individual in sport, his is a rare case of man meeting legend and rising above the seemingly insurmountable.

His ex-teammate and iconic on-field partner Shaquille O’Neal spoke of having given special thought to Kobe's parents, 'Pam' and 'Joe', as well as the ambition of a young Kobe. Likewise, Pau Gasol who had a special bond with Kobe and has been a source of emotional support for Vanessa Bryant, and their three daughters, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri was also public in remembering a man who he describes as a brother.

Former Lakers GM (General Manager) Jerry West brought Kobe to the franchise, with the Organisation winning 6 NBA Championships with him at the helm. West, like Shaq and Gasol, was also emotional when reflecting on his relationship with an individual he had found to be ‘rare’.

I loved him like a son [and] admired his talent. Leaders don’t come along very often and when someone of his calibre leaves far too young, it takes its toll on a lot of people, in particular people that cared about him a lot.

Jerry West

Ensuring all the victims are recognised

‘Gigi’ Bryant who also died in the helicopter crash at the tender age of 13 years old has also been remembered fondly. She too had a promising career in basketball ahead of her, and the precocious talent she possessed was of little surprise to her former coach, Alex Bazzell. He highlighted her fierce and competitive nature on the court as being reflective of both her Kobe and her Mother, Vanessa Bryant, but also remembered her 'sweet nature' as being the reason behind why she was so loved by her teammates.

The remembrance of Kobe and Gigi is being paired with coverage of the remaining passengers too. Payton Chester, 13; Sarah Chester, 45; Alyssa Altobelli, 14; Keri Altobelli, 46; John Altobelli, 56; Christina Mauser, 38; and Ara Zobayan, 50 were all taken long before their time a year ago. The struggle which their families have endured has been documented, and the work of John Altobelli who worked as a baseball coach at Orange Coast College has been memorialised.

The pain from the shock of last year has yet to fully subside for the NBA community. It has been made even harder by the announcement of the passing of Sekou Smith, yesterday. The death of the highly thought of NBA analyst will feel like another pierce through the fabric of an association which has invested heavily in eulogising both players and pundits that have helped entrench the NBA's position as the foremost basketball association in the world. Few have been as significant to this as Kobe, who grew to become the face of basketball just as the league was wondering how to chart the post-Jordan era, after his second retirement.

The last 12 months have been filled with much hurt, but the hommages over the past 48 hours show that the pain of last year has been accompanied by a comforting dose of remembrance this time around. This is welcome and a timely reminder that the legacy of Kobe Bryant is one which is almost impossible to forget.

Mayowa Ayodele

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