By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)
With all respect due to the good people at Nike and at Visual Concepts, their respective posthumous commemorations of Kobe Bryant — done in time for Sunday, what would have been Bryant’s 42nd birthday — fall dreadfully short of softening the gut-punch from which we’ve all yet to recover from some six months later.
All anyone really wants is for Bryant to still be here with us instead of being acknowledged in memoriam on a day officially named in his honor by Los Angeles and the Southern California county where he made his home.
Bryant’s heartbreaking death — as well as that of his daughter Gianna, her teammates Payton Chester and Alyssa Altobelli, their parents Sarah Chester and Keri and John Altobelli, coach Christina Mauser and helicopter pilot Ara Zobayan — continues to feel as inconceivable as it did when what started as an innocuous Sunday one week before the Super Bowl was stopped in its tracks by news of the fatal crash on the morning of January 26.
Word of the accident spread both online and off-line like lightning throughout that afternoon. Much misinformation was bantered about and that unfortunately sparked speculation as erroneous reports pinned Bryant’s other children — Natalia, Bianka and Capri — as well as other famous names (Rick Fox) as having accompanied the Bryants on the flight charted for the formerly-known Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California when it crashed into a Calabasas hillside.
Perhaps on this day, the 24th of the eighth month of the year — representative of the two jersey numbers Bryant immortalized and split time wearing during his National Basketball Association career that spanned the length of two decades — paired with the birthday acknowledgments from Sunday, will provide a requisite cathartic release in a year rife with conflict.
There are profitable companies are banking on such a thing, to be sure.
One is the previously mentioned Visual Concepts, makers of the NBA 2K series. Bryant is one of three players who will be featured on the covers of the newest upcoming edition of the popular franchise. One cover, which will be available for current generation consoles, shows him dunking in his No. 8 jersey. The other shows Bryant waving in his No. 24 jersey after his 60-point career finale in 2016 and will be exclusive to next-generation consoles.
Nike, the company with which Bryant was most associated as a pitchman, is dedicating this entire week to the late legend as #MambaWeek, whose festivities began with the release of various colorways of one of his signature shoe models Sunday, the first new Kobe merchandise that’s been made available since his death.
The Los Angeles Lakers are unveiling “Black Mamba” alternate jerseys tonight for Game 4 of their first-round series against the Portland Trailblazers. The jerseys are named after Bryant’s self-given moniker and will be embossed with a heart patch and “2” on the shoulder in a concurrent tribute to Gianna, who wore the number as a member of his Mamba Sports Academy middle-school aged basketball team and aspired to play for the University of Connecticut.
Pay close enough attention to detail and you’ll find Bryant’s influence is as embedded into the skill sets of the stars he;s mentored as the snakeskin stitching sewn onto the uniforms he helped design.
Whether it’s how Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum has enjoyed a near double-digit increase in his scoring average due in part to a more deliberate use of jab steps and pump fakes to shed defenders or the practical application of Bryant’s infamous “Mamba Mentality” by Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo’s relentless invasion of the painted area, where the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player scores nearly 70 percent of his points. Or the revamped repertoire of step-back jumpers, mid-range fade-aways and three-point shooting deployed by NBA Finals MVP and Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during his recent inclusion into discussions about the league’s best players.
For all intents and purposes, the helicopter accident that claimed the lives of three teenagers and six adults might as well have been what jarred free the other hellish events that have since spilled over into existence.
The deaths of the Bryants and their co-passengers welcomed us officially into a brutal year that’s also seen the merciless throttling of George Floyd and the unconscionable shooting deaths of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor along with the prevalence of a still at-large infectious disease responsible for the loss of more than 170,000 lives and the peril of countless others while a conniving narcissist of a commander-in-chief, whose latest antics include blatant stabs at manipulating the impending presidential election in his favor by withholding proper funding for the United States Postal Service, doing so because of an unsubstantiated fear that universal mail-in voting will lead to voter fraud.
Much like the enduring impression Bryant left on the game of basketball, it’s become frightfully apparent that no matter how many dollars are spent — to honor Bryant on a corporate level or on a consumer level — the sorrow and longing to wake from the collective nightmare sparked by his death isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago