It’s tragic that a superstar known for his thoughtfulness and willingness to learn never fully reckoned with his life’s darkest off-court episode.
Yesterday afternoon, the shocking news that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash, alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others, ripped through my social-media feeds and group texts. Like many Lakers fans, I spent the first hour stunned and mostly silent, just trying to come to grips with the unreality of the first reports. But by the time night fell, I could no longer dwell on the tragedy’s scope, the lifelong heartbreak coming to Bryant’s family and so many others, the complexity of an off-court legacy left unfinished. As was so often the case during Bryant’s tenure as basketball’s most polarizing superstar, it was easier to think about the singular virtuosic beauty of his game.
Pro basketball can sometimes seem like a contest of upper bodies. Because the spectator’s eye follows the ball, it focuses easily on the jump shooter’s clean release or the controlled violence of a tomahawk dunk. But underneath, a player’s legs are always moving, creating space for the more dazzling work of the hands. Younger players use speed to conjure up these micro-islands of space on crowded hardwood, but fast-twitch muscles fade with age. To keep scoring at will, veterans must develop deceptive footwork, and few players had craftier footwork than Bryant.