Beard: One year later, Kobe Bryant’s wide-ranging influence still resonates

Detroit News

Rod Beard
| The Detroit News

Maybe more than other industries, sports provide a litany of unforgettable mental connections of where you were when a major event happened.

Magglio Ordonez’s home run to send the Tigers to the World Series in 2006. Barry Sanders surpassing 2,000 yards in 1997. The Red Wings ending their Stanley Cup drought in 1997.

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death last year is a little fresher in my mind, both because of recency but also because of the jarring nature. I had just settled into a Dunkin’ Donuts in Novi after dropping off my son at baseball practice. As was my routine, I was going to pass the time writing a story there, waiting for practice to finish.

The first reports of a helicopter crash on Twitter didn’t make sense. Every couple of years, there are fake reports of a prominent star’s death that end up being hoaxes. I was hoping this was another.

Not Kobe Bryant. Couldn’t be.

When the report from TMZ moved, the shock set in. With this type of news, especially in California, TMZ rarely gets it wrong.

On the one-year commemoration of Bryant’s death, the news stings the same. Somehow, it still doesn’t feel real. Bryant still appears to be some mythical figure that was above such a tragedy.

One of the big takeaways is that celebrity status doesn’t guarantee anything. Just like we’re excited by athletes’ exploits on the field or on the court, sometimes we’re just left wanting more.

Kobe gave the world so much in his playing career — and in many ways, he was on the precipice of giving so much more in the next act of his life. He already had won an Oscar in 2018 for his work on “Dear Basketball.” He was becoming a fixture in his daughter Gianna’s life as she was making her own ascension in the basketball world.

Bryant’s legacy lingers in his impact on other athletes and his relatability as an everyman. He made #GirlDad more than a hashtag; it became a rallying cry for fathers to be more involved in their daughters’ lives. Bryant not only made young boys think that they could shoot like him, he inspired young girls that they could do the same — and more.

It wasn’t just about being the next Kobe Bryant. He gave voice to becoming the next Diana Taurasi or the next Sabrina Ionescu. His empowerment for women and girls is as much of a takeaway from the past year as anything else.

From Michael Jordan’s tearful and heartfelt tribute at Bryant’s funeral to the warm and artistic expressions around the world, Bryant’s fans expressed their gratitude for all the inspiration that he provided.

That the Lakers won another championship in the weirdest of seasons, with Bryant’s tragedy still the minds of LeBron James and his teammates, there was a nod to Bryant’s excellence and his influence.

As the emotions resurface a year later, there’s a lingering respect for what Kobe meant to the league, to all his contemporaries and to the millions who followed him around the world. Pistons forward Blake Griffin last year was emotional when asked about the impact that Bryant had — and Griffin focused on what that impression was on Bryant’s off-court contributions.

The past year has been dominated by the two P’s — pandemic and politics — but within that span also was a reminder of passion and purpose, which Bryant has inspired in so many millions around the world with his life.

We can remember where we are today, but Bryant’s legacy exhorts everyone to be in a better place by inspiring others.

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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