HOFFMAN: 12 stories that defined Kobe

Craig Hoffman
January 27, 2020 - 7:20 pm
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Most of you know me as a football guy. It's the sport I've covered most notably the last four and a half years here in D.C., but it's basketball that will always be my first sports love.

It's the sport I grew up playing and still do. It's a sport that was my escape and my solace. When life got me down, I'd grab a ball and my headphones and head to my local court. I'd take shot after shot, until I had sweat whatever had me down straight out of me.

The idea of doing that came from one place, or more specifically, one man: Kobe Bryant.

As an eight-year-old I watched my favorite player Michael Jordan finish off Utah one final time. As a 12-year-old growing up in South Carolina, I watched my favorite team – the Charlotte Hornets – move to New Orleans. I needed a new team. That guy wearing No. 8 in L.A. looked a whole lot like old No. 23 from Chicago. Kobe Bryant became my new favorite player. The Lakers became my new favorite team.

The number of hours I spent in the gym by myself, from my teenage years through college and even to this day, working on my game the same way in the same style that Kobe did is almost embarrassing. It was his profession. I play pickup once a week. Yet it brings the same joy, because in the end basketball played at any level is just a game. So there I'd be working on a particular move, then the counter to that move and then the counter to that one…just like Kobe did.

The more I’ve thought today, the more I realized how much Kobe taught me. He, more than anyone, taught me how to play basketball. He shaped how I practiced the game I love. The game that is my escape. I’m going to need it this week. I am gutted.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The shoes in the second picture are my favorite pair I’ve ever had. Customized Kobe IV’s that I literally wore until the soles came undone. However for as great as Kobe was and for as much as he impacted the game, his impact on how we attack each day is so much more. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The #MambaMentality isn’t about basketball. It’s about the relentless pursuit of perfection. Perfection as a basketball player, sure. But more the pursuit of perfection in everything we do, which for him included being a father and a mentor. ⁣⁣ ⁣ It was there in his own kids, especially Gigi. That’s what’s gutted me the most today. He had inspired her, in front of the world, to follow in his footsteps. Her loss hurts more. She was next.⁣ ⁣⁣ “The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do."⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ That is the Mamba Mentality. That, above all else is what I’ll take and remember. For as much as Kobe did in his 41 years, the world has been robbed of what he was going to do in the next 41, which would have been even more impactful than anything he ever did on the floor.

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So today as I went to my real job, talking into a microphone, I was tasked with delivering the news about a man who I hadn't really realized meant this much to me. My days of being a fan are long over. That is a hazard of this job. I root for players now if I root at all. I still enjoy the game, but when you get to know the people involved it becomes much more about them than the jerseys they wear, even if part of this job is capturing the people for the fans who care more than is possibly explainable about the jerseys.

The way I chose to do this was to share the stories that came flooding back to me over the last 20-something hours since the world was rocked by the news. Some of these were stories I was reminded of. Most of them are my own favorite Kobe stories – the things that defined my favorite player when I still had such a thing. Here they are, taken straight from my update scripts and enhanced with the audio and some accompanying material where appropriate.

12:30 – He changed what we thought was possible

These picture are just the tip of the iceberg of our relationship. He taught me so many things in life that were necessary on and off the court. On the court he taught me how to carve out defenses and how to take my time. How to make winning my ultimate goal. Off the court he taught me to sign my own checks lol. Of course anyone who knows my story knows I’ve suffered a lot of loss but the only loss I can compare this to is when I lost my son. Even though our relationship wasn’t father/son, it was more like him being a teacher and me being his brother. I’m glad I got to be the ying to your yang as far as the locker room was concerned. It was my pleasure. I couldn’t even catch my breath today when I heard this news. I just knew if he was in a helicopter crash he would have been the one to survive. Somehow he would have jumped out and landed on his feet. I’m sitting here thinking about when we would be in practice scrimmaging and you would start the jump ball off with elbowing Sasha in the chest. Like dude it’s 10:30 in the morning lol. You think watching him play was crazy, you gotta think in practice if you scored like 8-9 buckets throughout the practice you had a great practice. I’ve seen him knock off 13-14 in a row in practice!!!! I’m still waiting for the media to come out and say wrong report. No way God took my brother this early. I know I been through my own stuff in life with using drugs and not being good to myself. When I went through that Coma situation if God would have came to me and said we would take me and spare Kobe I would have rather that happened. In honor of my brother I’m up at 4am tomorrow to get to the gym! Gigi gone give you buckets!!!! I love you brother -------- @kobebryant

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“I just knew if he was in a helicopter crash, he would have been the one to survive.”…that’s what Lamar Odom wrote of his friend and former teammate Kobe Bryant yesterday. Of course Bryant, his daughter Gianna, two of her teammates and their parents did not survive a helicopter crash yesterday just north of LA. The pilot also died in the crash. The tributes continue to pour in from all around the world. The three most recent presidents of the united states all issued statements, as did NBA commissioner Adam Silver and Bryant’s idol Michael Jordan. Both of those sentiments included nearly the exact same quote – Kobe changed what we thought was possible. Bryant was just 41 years old and today his death still feels impossible.

1:00 – The Tump Tap

Some players don’t understand and certainly can’t explain their own greatness. Kobe Bryant was not that player. Bryant's basketball education started with VHS tapes his grandparents would send him to Italy while his father was playing professionally there. He'd study them on end and engulf every piece of information he could about the players, like Magic Johnson.

As Bryant's own career accolades started ascending among those he'd studied, it allowed him leeway to do things on the court that others simply couldn't…because he did things that others simply couldn't. One of the best examples was after hitting a rather impossible shot falling into the Suns bench, he smacked Phoenix coach Alvin Gentry right on the butt. All Gentry could do was laugh.

Bryant passed away yesterday at the age of 41 with 8 others, including his 13 year old daughter, in a helicopter accident leaving behind an endless stream of memories, but also an endless amount of possibility. Bryant’s post-career life included copious amounts of mentoring and coaching as well as an academy award.

1:30 – The 81-Point Game

(Grant and Danny spoke at 12:15pm about the last celebrity death that had shaken them like Kobe’s had to so many. It lead right into this update):

I'm Craig Hoffman and my answer to that last question Grant and Danny asked – Stuart Scott and 14 years, one week and one day ago I like, so many of you, tuned on SportsCenter to get a recap of NFL Championship Weekend. Clear as day I can remember Stu greeting me like this instead

This was before smart phones. None of us knew what we were about to watch, which was Stuart…as only Stu could…describe one of the greatest performances in NBA history.

14 years later…perhaps the only thing more unbelievable is that both of them are gone. Bryant died yesterday in a helicopter crash at the age of 41. Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, two of her teammates – Alyssa and Payton, their parents, coaches and the pilot…nine in total…died in the crash as well.

The NBA continued its games last night. Players paid tribute by taking 8 and 24 second violations…of course Bryant’s two numbers in the NBA. Trae Young, Gianna Bryant’s favorite player, donned #8 as he dropped 45 points against the Wizards on…you guessed it…24 shots. Devin Booker scored 36 on 24 shots. Booker and Young combined? 81. Sports, man.

Learn from the goat----@kobebryant #mambamentality #mambacita #kobebryant #gigibryant #GIGIxKOBE

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2:00 – Lady Mamba

Kobe Bryant had four children. Two are under the age of four. There is Natalia, who is 17. Only one of them though – Gianna – was enough like her father to earn the nickname “Lady Mamba.” Bryant’s longtime teammate Derek Fisher said Gigi had the same demeanor as her dad. In dad’s retirement, she was with him on the sideline of games from NBA arenas to UConn’s Gampel Pavilion…an arena in which dad says she was hellbent on playing in. As you know by now, Gigi…at just 13…died with her father yesterday in helicopter crash. Seven others, including two of Gianna’s teammates – Alyssa and Payton – died as well. Kobe Bryant, who is a lock to be inducted into the Hall of Fame later this year, was just 41 years old.

The team he played 20 years for, the Lakers, were flying back from Saturday night’s game against Philadelphia. In that game, LeBron James passed Bryant for 3rd on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. The team learned the news in the air and an emotional James could be seen embracing multiple people as he exited the plane yesterday back in LA. The Lakers play the Clippers tomorrow night.

2:30 – Kobe & LeBron

Kobe Bryant had a hand signal he would use that everybody in the league knew. He would stand at the elbow, whistle and then hold his hands up in a triangle with his index fingers and thumbs, flicking the triangle open and closed. In 2008 while doing an impression of Bryant in front of him and the rest of team USA, LeBron James explained what that meant.

James passed Bryant Saturday night for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and Kobe congratulated him in what turned out to be his final tweet. For as competitive as he was in the 20 years he played, he understood history and was gracious in defeat. Bryant died yesterday at just 41 years old in a helicopter crash in LA. He was one of nine victims. The crash is still under investigation.

James and the Lakers play for the first time since the tragedy tomorrow night in LA vs the Clippers. The NBA kept games on last night. The most notable performance came against the Wizards…Trae Young dropped 45 points including a half-court shot at the halftime buzzer for Atlanta while wearing Bryant’s #8 instead of his own number 11. Young was Gianna Bryant’s favorite player. Kobe and Gigi had gone to three games this year. Two of them were Young’s.

....This S*** can’t be real... this the first moment I was able to meet Gianna Maria Bryant, she’s been to only 3 games this year... 2 of them were mine... She told me I was her favorite player to watch----❤️ I can’t believe this---- Rest Easy Gigi----❤️

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3:00 – Kobe's Reach

Tributes are pouring in for Kobe Bryant from around the world because he made an impact around the world. Bryant’s from Philadelphia and was a huge Eagles fans. After Philly won the Super Bowl, he met Nick Foles and the quarterback said “Hi, I’m Nick Foles.” Bryant whipped back “I know who the heck you are” and he didn’t say heck. The word he did use shared the last two letters…not the first. His impact went far outside sports. Justin Timberlake posted this afternoon that Bryant was one of his closest friends. They met as teenagers and “bonded over their process and drive.” Timberlake continued that as they got older he sensed Bryant’s patience and ease grew and that that pushed the pop star to continue to grow himself.

As you know - Bryant died in a helicopter crash yesterday. He was 41 years old. Other victims of the tragedy were his daughter Gigi, who was just 13…Two of her teammates…Alyssa and Payton and their parents and coaches. Sarah Chester was Payton’s mom. John and Keri Altobelli were Alyssa’s parents. Christina Mauser was an assistant coach and Ara Zobayan was the pilot of the helicopter.

3:30 – Dear Basketball

The things Kobe Bryant accomplished in 41 years of life would take some amount of time I cannot comprehend, nevertheless have to list. The basketball accomplishments could fill hours, if not days. He won an Academy Award for his animated letter “Dear Basketball”

He was the first athlete and first black man to win an Oscar for an animated short film. None of that touches the mentoring he was doing from his own children to NBA and WNBA players and everyone in between and beyond. That is why it’s so unfathomable to try and comprehend what he would have done next, which is all we’re left to do as Bryant died yesterday in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.

The NBA decided to keep its games last night on the schedule. Trae Young scored 45 points in a Hawks win over the Wizards while donning Bryant’s #8. Devin Booker scored 36 for Phoenix. Those numbers combined? 81 points…the number Bryant scored against the Raptors in Januray of 2006. Booker and Young each took 24 shots.

4:00 – Achilles Can't Stop Him

The scowl. Maybe nothing defined Kobe Bryant’s relentlessness like that look where his jaw jutted out as if to say “go ahead. Try and stop me. You can’t.” It’s why he looked almost confused when something finally did. In 2013 he had 32 points against the Warriors and went to drive for more when his Achilles gave. He grabbed it, rubbing it with a befuddled look on his face. He later said he knew exactly what happened. That did not stop him from getting up, walking to the free throw line, hitting two free throws and walking off the court under his own power. His relentlessness could not be stopped even by sports most devastating injury.

Devastating is also how we could describe yesterday when we found out Kobe, his daughter Gigi and seven others died in a helicopter crash outside LA. Kobe was 41. Gianna Maria was just 13. The NBA has chosen to march on and will play six games tonight.

4:30 – Kyrie Irving

There was one player who could not muster the strength to play last night after learning of Kobe Bryant’s death. Kyrie Irving left Madison Square Garden after hearing the news devastated. Irving’s relationship with Bryant goes back to when he was in high school, and just a year later he was in Team USA camp with Bryant when the young buck challenged the 5 time champ to a game of 1-on-1. It didn’t go well for Irving

That courtesy of Duke Blue Planet. Bryant and eight others including his daughter passed away in a helicopter crash yesterday at the age of 41. He’s a lock to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in August…the trademark competitiveness the hallmark of his 20 year career.

5:00 - Jerry Buss describes Kobe scoring 81

Kobe Bryant once scored 81 points in an NBA game. You know this. But think about that. He scored 81 freaking points. He scored 55 in the second half. Kareem Abdul Jabar scored more points than anyone else in the history of the league. You know what his career high was in any single game? 55 points.

Lakers owner Jerry Buss said of watching Kobe that night “You’re sitting and watching and it’s like a miracle unfolding in front of your eyes and you can’t accept it. Somehow the brain won’t work.”

If you replace “miracle” with unspeakable tragedy, you could just as easily describe what it was like to watch the coverage of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna, Sarah and Payton Chester, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli as well as Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan yesterday. You can’t accept it. The brain won’t work.

25 hours later it’s just as impossible to accept that Bryant, known for his relentlessness, is gone. He’s eligible for the Hall of Fame this year and will certainly be voted in on his first ballot. The league will continue to honor him tonight with six more games on the schedule. The Lakers take the floor for the first time tomorrow night in LA against the Clippers.

5:30 – Gigi had next

The little girl who was becoming quite famous for being by her father’s side was Gianna Bryant, or as her dad…Kobe…called her Gigi. Gianna Maria was one of four of Kobe and Vanessa Bryant’s daughters, but she was the only one to take to basketball like her dad. Kobe recently said it was Gigi who brought him back to the game after he had mostly not watched much of the game he was obsessed after retiring in 2016. She was a budding star in her own right too, as Kobe told Jimmy Kimmel in 2018.

That is so hard to hear today after, as you well know by now, Kobe and Gianna died on their way to her basketball game yesterday in a helicopter crash. Bryant was a champion of the women’s game from Gigi’s Mamba Academy team to his close friend and future WNBA #1 overall pick Sabrina Ianescu and many other WNBA greats. Kobe and Gianna are survived by his wife and mother Vanessa, 17 year old daughter and sister Natalia and the two younger Bryant girls – 3 year old Bianka and 7 month old Capri.

6:00 – “This $#*& is your fault!”

February 5th, 2009…Kobe Bryant has two appointments. One with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. One with their most famous fan after. Spike Lee was making a documentary called “Kobe Doing Work” and the Lakers star had agreed to do the voiceover work for the film that night after the game…but first Kobe had to do the actual work.

After smashing the record in the world’s most famous arena, Bryant signed the box score and gave it to Spike. “This is your fault” it said. Lee shared the signed piece of paper on Instagram earlier this afternoon after Bryant’s tragic passing yesterday in a helicopter crash. The Laker icon was just 41 years old. The crash also killed his daughter, 13 year old Gianna and two of her teammates as they were on the way to her basketball game. Payton Chester and her mom Sarah, Alyssa Altobelli and her parents John and Keri, as well as caoch Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan also died in the crash.

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These trips down memory lane were fun at times. They are some of my favorite basketball memories. Others were completely heart-wrenching. For as much as Kobe gave us, he still had so much more to give. That isn't even to speak of what Gianna was on her way to becoming, her fellow teammates and their parents, their coach Christina Mauser or the pilot on the flight who perished as well.

They don't teach you in journalism school what to do on a day like this. This is how I felt it was best to do the job today. I hope I was right.

Gonna go grab my headphones and shoot some hoops now. Thanks for listening.

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