Remembering a legend: Locals weigh in on impact of Kobe Bryant

The Associated PressPeople walk beside a giant mural of former NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna on Tuesday at a basketball court in Taguig, south of Manila, Philippines.

Kobe Bryant died Sunday.

It’s a sentence that still doesn’t look right, like there should be a jagged red line underneath offering a reminder that those letters aren’t supposed to line up that particular way.

Kobe was a complex figure, so much so that the hundreds of pieces memorializing his 41 years on this planet will still inevitably miss something.

He was a maniacal competitor. He alienated teammates and coaches while winning an entire hand’s worth of championship rings. He owned the NBA for over a decade, and his on-court greatness is undeniable.

He was accused of rape in 2003, which cannot be forgotten, let alone forgiven. He was also, by all accounts, a wonderful father and family man, who died beside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna on their way to a basketball camp. There’s an argument to me made that he was the world’s most important ambassador of women’s basketball in the years before his death.

In 2011, he was fined $100,000 by the NBA for using a homophobic slur toward a referee. Rather than go on the defensive or slink away, he worked with GLAAD to better understand exactly why he was in the wrong. Two years later, the organization praised him for calling out a fan on Twitter who used the word “gay” as an insult.

He was far from perfect, as a basketball player and especially as a human being. But he was incredibly smart, and that, paired with his famous work ethic, allowed him to improve, first on the court and then off.

After a Hall of Fame career that spanned two decades, I can’t help but feel Sunday’s tragedy kept us from seeing the best of Kobe Bean Bryant.

•••

I had planned on writing a lot more, but why only share one person’s thoughts?

Kobe’s impact was immeasurable. So we figured, why not get a feel for how local sports figures have taken the last few days?

Below are an array of quotes and stories shared by area athletes, coaches and writers, as gathered by myself, reporter Khari Demos and local freelance writer David Yarger:

“The first time I met him, he was 14 years old. I was recruiting a kid in Philly who was a high school senior. I’m asking, who is this kid? ‘That’s Joey Bean Bryant’s son, they just moved back from Italy.’

“I just said, ‘Hey, if things don’t work out at Duke, Kentucky, UCLA, you’ve got a scholarship at Niagara University.’ We laughed about it over the years.

“... Any time I’d see him, he was always very engaging and cordial. The guy was just a great, great competitor, and someone that made a huge impact on the game. ... A whole generation of our current players have either played against him or been influenced by his greatness. It’s a sad time in the basketball world. He’ll be sorely missed.”

JACK ARMSTRONG

Lewiston resident; Toronto Raptors broadcaster, former NU coach

“(Sunday) we played a team in our league, always a very competitive game. And we came back and won that game, and we found out right after our game was over, and our kids were just devastated.

“... Whether you were a fan or not a fan when he was playing, he still gave players a road map on what it would take to achieve the highest level, in terms of competitiveness and work ethic. And I think that’s important.”

JENEPHER BANKER

GI native; Daemen women’s basketball coach

“I’m the ultimate Laker fan, so it started with Magic (Johnson) and then it came with Kobe. I’m just devastated as a basketball fan, and a father, and all that. As a coach, Kobe’s the type of guy you want all of your players to emulate. They’re not gonna be as skilled, but his drive and work ethic is what drove him and we constantly as coaches use Kobe as an example. A person who just elevated his game and he did it when no one was watching. He did it at 5:30 in the morning and 10 o’clock at night after the game in the open gyms. He was just the example of how to achieve greatness.

“ ... Just from the basketball community itself, he was too young, all the things he was doing after he retired, especially with his daughter (Gianna) that passed with him and all the attention he was giving the girls game. It’s just sad. ... That’s the thing, he was a great player, but you use the word humanitarian, that’s his true greatness as to how he impacted others.”

MATT BRADSHAW

Lew-Port boys basketball coach

“That’s somebody that I looked up to all my life, growing up in my generation. I think Kobe was a huge idol to everybody, every kid that’s ever picked up a basketball, whether you liked him or not, Kobe always had some type of impact on their lifestyle.

“... We found that at halftime (of Sunday’s loss to Saint Peter’s), but we wasn’t sure if it was true or not. And then after the game, we found out that it was very emotional. I know a few guys shed some tears. ... I mean, it should tell you enough that there were people that cried when he died that have never ever met him in their life. That’s the impact he had on basketball players.”

SHANDON BROWN

NU sophomore guard

“Kobe affected my whole mindset when it comes to basketball and real life. He is the reason I started playing basketball, watching him back in his prime, and inspired me to want to (be), just like him. Every time I put that No. 24 jersey on, I felt like I was Kobe putting on his jersey and felt like I had to go out there and perform.

“Kobe taught me that with hard work and dedication, you can accomplish whatever you want in life and I will always remember that. I used to watch Kobe’s motivational videos before every game and without that, I don’t know if I would have accomplished some of the things I have accomplished in my basketball career.

“I’m going to miss you Kobe, forever 24 at heart.”

TORREE CHEATHAM

Lockport native; D’Youville freshman guard

“That was our modern Jordan. When my son grows up and asks me, ‘Hey Dad, who was the best player in your era?’ I’m going to say Kobe.

“... It hit home for me. I was shook up (Sunday). ... I got a son. I can’t imagine his family, what they’re going through, to no longer have their father, husband. It’s just a sad, sad thing.”

JERMAINE CRUMPTON

NF native; former NFHS, Canisius College player

“How many athletes in any sport can you say had two legit hall of fame careers (No. 8 and No. 24) and both numbers retired? How many that were willing to embrace the highs and lows of one organization for 20 years, playing through injuries or shooting left handed when the right was casted up? Or just the will to outwork anyone going against him or even on his own team?

“... Kobe symbolizes something that many people rarely get to in terms of their reach. His relentless commitment to his craft — never wavering through his toughest stretches — and dedication to greatness just transcends sports.

“Just this past week playing pickup basketball, a few guys we were playing with brought up how we all would yell out “Kobe!” whenever we were putting shots up as a kid.”

KHARI DEMOS

GNN Sports reporter

“Very sad day in the basketball world. Life is precious. We need to enjoy every second we have on this earth because nobody knows when their time is coming. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

“(It’s) extremely heartbreaking, I’m at a loss for words. ... Ironically we (were) celebrating my mother’s 78th birthday with a family dinner. Looks like I will never forget the exact day Kobe passed away.” 

BRENT GADACZ

NFHS boys basketball coach

“Kobe’s always been my favorite. I watched his highlights, and the way he was (scoring), and (tried) to add some things he do in my game. The way he made the game look made it fun for me.

“... The game lost a real one.”

RODDY GAYLE JR.

NF native; Lew-Port sophomore who wears No. 24 for Bryant

“Wow Kobe, I am huge Kobe fan. It’s been tough to digest. Kobe was the game of basketball; an ambassador, a coach, a player, a teammate, a legend. He gave his knowledge, time and talent to serve others with his gifts. ... As a huge Kobe fan, I’m at a loss for words. I traveled to Houston for his last away game of his career, he scored 35 points in three quarters and even more impressive was watching him warm up.

“ ... Those 15 minutes prior to the game, he worked on free throws, passing to teammates exactly where they wanted the ball, pivoting and ball fakes on the elbow and wing. He only worked on all the fundamentals. It was obvious he approached the game differently, and (obviously) that’s what set him a part from even the best basketball players in the world. I have always appreciated how he approached greatness, reading stories about his workouts and invisible hours of training, making the most of the gifts he was blessed with and using his gifts and serving others on his platform.”

ERIC KLUMPP

Newfane boys basketball coach

“His work ethic inspired me the most, and to not give up on a game.

“Even though I’m a die hard Celtics fan, he got my respect.”

WILLIE LIGHTFOOT

NF native; former NFHS player, sophomore at nationally-ranked Sunrise Christian Academy

“(It’s) just a sad time for everyone. Kobe was a legend that’s gone but never will be forgotten. We can never forget what he’s done for the game. His legacy will always be known for greatness. ... It’s a cold world fam, gotta cherish every moment!”

CEION MCDOWELL

Lockport senior guard

“I’m sick to my stomach like everybody else. It’s surreal, one of those things like ‘this can’t be happening, this can’t be true.’ But unfortunately it is. It brings you back to not just sports people but other people, JFK, Princess Di.

“... It’s a hard read (as to how players are coping). We talked about it was the kids (Monday). I texted all of them last night a quote from Kobe saying the most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do. They all liked it. When we talked today, I think they were listening.

“I think they’re sad. They’re still in college, still trying to process. They’ve never been through that kind of thing.”

JOE MIHALICH

Philadelphia native; Hofstra coach, former NU coach

“I wanted to shoot like him. I wanted to work as hard as him. I watched him online for motivational purposes. ... I wanted to finish like him, just everything.

“... I watched all his highlights. I was a big highlight person growing up in Brooklyn on the concrete. I wanted to study the best player, learn the best moves and he was definitely one person I always, 24/7 studied, so it was definitely a big loss for me.”

JAI MOORE

NU women’s senior guard

“He was just a tremendous ambassador. I think he represented what Philly basketball was, all about just the tough the grit, the heart.

“Kobe came to Philly a little bit later. ... He was living in Europe and I think he had a different kind of feel and flair to his game, but he was always well respected in our community.

“It was definitely seismic. ... I was in shock for hours. I didn’t want to believe that it was true. And so my heart goes out to his family and all the families that lost loved ones in that helicopter crash (Sunday), and I’ve been saying a lot of prayers for all those families, knowing how hard it must be for them right now.”

JADA PIERCE

Philadelphia native; NU women’s coach

“I heard the news in a text from my son late in the afternoon, half an hour before I left the house to attend a movie with my wife. As I processed the devastating news of a great player’s death, I was glad to have a way to lose myself in a film for a couple of hours.

“The movie was “Little Women.” A few minutes in, I realized it was the story of four girls, a close family of daughters. Just like Kobe, I thought as I began crying softly to myself.

“... This was a great loss for sports, and for basketball in this country and around the world. ... But above all, this is a family tragedy, a man and his child being taken away too soon. I cried for Kobe as a husband and father and son, a person who had grown immeasurably as a man during his NBA career and was just beginning a new life outside basketball and was continuing to be an inspiration to fans young and old.”

JERRY SULLIVAN

GNN Sports freelance sports columnist

“He had spoken with our team last year, had gotten special shoes for our team when we went to the Final Four. His daughter (Gianna) met our team after our game at UCLA outside the locker room. He was a great supporter of women’s basketball.

“... You hate to see anyone lose their life in the prime of their life. He had a lot more living to do. It’s especially hard for his daughters and his wife, who lose their sister, daughter. It’s just awful for the whole family.”

TARA VANDERVEER

Former NF resident; Stanford women’s coach

“Probably the best AAU game I ever played in (at nationals in May 1995) was against him. (He was on) probably the best AAU team ever put together ... Kobe, Vince Carter, Tim Thomas, Kevin Freeman, major D-1 players. And he was head and shoulders better than everybody else.

“We had me, Elton Brand and my guy John Celestand (who would play with Kobe on the Lakers). I might’ve had 20-25 points, it was a good showing for me to be on the court with those guys. He scored 50.

"... I was super emotional (Sunday), super emotional (Monday). I do feel like I lost a relative, personally. When you go through those wars, you remember the best guys you played against.”

TIM WINN

NF native; former NFHS, St. Bonaventure player

“So anyone that knows me knows I’ve grown up as a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, which puts me in the middle of the LeBron v. Kobe discussion. Anytime Kobe played Cleveland I despised him because he was so good. But when it comes to basketball, I appreciated his hard work and dedication to the game. I mean you hear all the stories of him pushing teammates and players to strive to get better, and that’s really an all-around type of guy on and off the court. Every up-and-coming basketball player would benefit from seeing the work Kobe put in.

“What hurts the most is knowing he was so content with and cherished post basketball life. He loved being with his family, especially GiGi, who was also tragically involved. I think Skip Bayless said it best, that Kobe was destined to have a better career as a family man than the historic career he had as a basketball player. He will be missed dearly.”

DAVID YARGER

NF native; GNN Sports freelance sports writer

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