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The Fame and Death of Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant represented far more than being a talented basketball player because of the way he went about achieving what he set out to achieve.
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Kobe Bryant in Guangzhou, China on 8/2/2015. © Plavevski / Shutterstock

January 28, 2020 11:03 EDT

Kobe Bryant’s basketball career was atypical in every way. He started young, did the most amazing things on a basketball court. That included being the only player ever to approach threatening Wilt Chamberlain’s record for points in a game. Chamberlain played all 48 minutes of that game in 1962, and his teammates fed him the ball at the end for him to reach 100. In 2006, Bryant played just under 42 minutes to reach 81 points. But his goal in that game was for his team, the Los Angeles Lakers, to win. His performance turned an 18-point deficit early in the second quarter into a clear victory over a strong team.

His name was Kobe or the Black Mamba. He died on January 26 when his helicopter crashed in the fog in the Santa Monica mountains.

Here is today’s 3D definition:


A type of beef in Japan almost as famous as the now-deceased basketball player, who was named after it

Contextual Note

Kobe Bryant was exceptional in many ways, even for becoming controversial with his own teammates. Raised in Italy and married to a woman of Mexican heritage, he spoke several languages fluently.

He had an enormous influence on the people around him. The best example of that was his impact on what came to be known as the “Redeem Team” in the 2008 Olympics when, after several seasons of disappointing performance by the US national team, Bryant’s presence and work with his teammates reestablished its glory.

Historical Note

In some ways, Bryant recycled some of the magic of Muhammad Ali. In his early years, Kobe upset people with his arrogant attitude. A lot of Americans thought of him as a petulant, impertinent, egotistical brat who deserved to be smacked down. In the course of his career, especially after three NBA championships and despite legal proceedings for alleged rape — an episode that paralleled in different ways the legal dramas of Ali’s and Mike Tyson’s — the American public ended up embracing Bryant.

Kobe embodied the American ideal of achieving success through hard work, though it would never have been enough without immense natural talent. That is why even his most severe critics couldn’t help but admire him: He was the incarnation of specific moral qualities associated with the realization of the American dream. His wasn’t a rags-to-riches story, which is far more common for black players in the NBA. Instead, he wisely capitalized on his good fortune and worked exceptionally hard to achieve his goals. On the basketball court, Bryant incarnated the kind of force of pure, concentrated will that US culture celebrates.

But his childhood in Europe meant that, from an early age, he developed a truly global vision of humanity, a quality rarely encouraged in US culture. In that sense, he represented something extremely rare: a compromise between an exaggeratedly strong ego and a spontaneously sincere embrace of humanity across different cultures. That embrace was founded less on the kind of charitable pity that US culture encourages as a sign of virtue in its elite than a very real and spontaneous empathy with people of all origins.

I was raised in Los Angeles and, as a child, was a devoted fan of the Lakers. A little more than two decades later, Bryant arrived in the NBA. It was the exact moment the internet was beginning to make access to the drama of NBA basketball possible again for expatriates like myself. I followed Kobe’s career from its beginnings, sensing he was an exceptional talent and an interesting person, even when, at the age of 18, he was launching airballs in the playoffs, dashing the Lakers’ hopes of advancing further. That was three years before his first championship. 

All the outpouring of sympathy from so many quarters across the globe has been sincere, including the moving words from tennis champion Novak Djokovic, following his quarterfinal victory at the Australian Open.

Kobe Bryant is missed in ways that many sports heroes will never be missed.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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