The former Lakers star’s shocking death with eight others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, posed knotty challenges to journalists. They were called on to chase the truth in an environment where gossip often gallops faster and farther than facts; examine facets of a celebrity who became a brand; and write about a figure whose career and life were both thrilling and thorny.
All on deadlines as unforgiving as a shot clock.
The stories produced in the first 24 hours after the accident have been dizzying in variety. The Los Angeles Times published, as of this writing,, with surely more to come; one, by assistant metro editor Erika D. Smith, astutely between Los Angeles’ love for Bryant and its similar stance toward recently slain music star Nipsey Hussle. The Ringer used a to drive home the range of Bryant’s accomplishments. And Slate hosted a of how Bryant’s rape case fits within the larger discussion.
Below are four pieces that chose different paths to cover the story, each offering its own moments of elegance on elegance.
The Unfinished Kobe Bryant — Rolling Stone
“Typically, the sound evokes calamity.”
Bryant’s death is as much a Los Angeles story as a global one. One journalist who evoked that sense of place was Los Angeles resident Jamil Smith, whoseintroduces readers to the city before the player:
The noise that a helicopter makes resonates differently here in Los Angeles. The blades reverberate through our neighborhoods more forebodingly here, often conjuring images of police and media surveillance. You hardly ever hear a chopper and think that something is going right. Typically, the sound evokes calamity.
Smith’s piece isn’t a dusty litany of Bryant’s accomplishments, but a mournful cry for futures lost to Bryant and the crash’s other victims. Smith doesn’t turn away from the less glowing portions of Bryant’s past — he notes that Rolling Stone once named Bryant the NBA’s “.” But he sticks to the theme of lost potential when he writes of Bryant and others who die young when he writes, “They have professional legacies that we understand, but as people, we are just getting to know them.”
There Will Never Be Another NBA Player Like Kobe Bryant — Slate
“The man was always trying to prove something. The only point of disagreement is over what that thing was.”
There were many tributes to Bryant’s on-court prowess, but Nick Greene’s piece in Slate was notable for placing the Lakers star’s skill in context.
Rather than list Bryant’s accolades, Greene paints aof a player whose shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later style had become less common by the time he retired. Greene writes, “When Bryant retired in 2016, he exited a league that was leaving him behind.”
When compelled to describe that vanishing style, Greene chooses a memorable comparison.
There may come a day when another player scores 81 in a game, as Bryant did against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. There’s no chance they’ll do so by taking nearly three-dozen 2-pointers. It was like watching someone build a suspension bridge out of chewing gum.
Remembering Gigi Bryant (2006-2020) — The Athletic
“There’s Gigi in high heels standing under a basketball hoop looking up at it.”
Molly McKnight made sure readers knew that Kobe Bryant may have been the famous victim, but he was far from the only one in the helicopter crash.
With much of the coverage focused on the former Lakers star, McKnight wrote afor Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in The Athletic. She tells readers about Gianna’s favorite current players, ranging from Trae Young to LeBron James; Gianna’s desire to play basketball at UConn; her recent Halloween costume, as The Tin Man.
Tributes to the crash’s other victimsas well. But McKnight captures a particular sadness with this line about Gianna, who was on her way to a youth basketball game before the crash:
Gigi died en route to doing what she loved, but that does not make the loss of a child any easier.
It Is a Terrible Irony That Kobe Bryant Should Fall From the Sky — Esquire
“In basketball, you can correct your mistakes immediately and beautifully, and in midair.”
Esquire columnist Charles Pierce has an uncanny ability to find the historical context wrapped around any story, so it’s unsurprising his column includes the quote above from prep-star-turned-poet Jim Carroll, whose prep career ended before Bryant was born.
Carroll may have played in the era of Connie Hawkins, but Pierce uses the former’s memorable quote as theas he urges readers to examine the tension between the sexual-assault allegation against Bryant and his life and accomplishments after:
Kobe Bryant died on Sunday with one of the young women in his life, and how you will come to measure his life has to be judged by how deeply you believe that he corrected his grievous fault through the life he lived afterwards, and how deeply you believe that he corrected that fault, immediately and beautifully, and in midair.