In what was arguably the most celebrated induction class in the history of basketball that had decorated names and champions such as Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Rudy Tomjanovich and Kim Mulkey, it was the one person, whose absence was felt the most in Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, 18-time NBA All-Star, five-time NBA champion and arguably this generation’s most transformative player, died last spring in a helicopter crash out in Los Angeles, was on the minds of everyone during Friday’s virtual press conference as all of the inductees talked about and mentioned the impact that the man known forever as “The Black Mamba”
Whether it was Duncan reminiscing about the Lakers-Spurs post-season battles and rivalry, Garnett referring to him as a “little brother” and all of the friendly trash talk between the two or USA Basketball Director, Jerry Colangelo discussing his cultural impact on basketball globally, the spectre that was Kobe hung over everyone.
Few can debate the influence that the Philadelphia-born–and adopted son of Los Angeles–Bryant had in the game of basketball when he was alive. Even fewer can debate that he was the heir apparent to Michael Jordan in terms of being the face of the game around the world.
While his past sexual assault in Colorado—and settlement—may be his lone smudge in an otherwise brilliant and storied career, Bryant vindicated himself in becoming a champion and advocate of women’s basketball, thanks to daughter, GiGi—who also died with him—and his current eldest daughter, Natalia—whom will be wearing his Hall of Fame induction blazer and got accepted into USC.
While his legacy may be somewhat complicated to some, there is no doubt that Kobe—who joins his “big brother” and mentor in M.J.—in being the second player to ever have his own exhibit in Springfield, left a huge impact on the game that may never be forgotten.
Champion. Father. Girl Dad. Women’s Basketball advocate.
That is the lasting legacy and final epitaph of the man who will forever be considered the greatest Laker of all-time.