A World Less Certain | Mamba Forever

There aren't enough words to describe our pain

Kobe Bryant (August 23, 1978 - January 26, 2020)

Lakers legends walk among us in the City of Angels. Until, one day, they become life-size action figures cast in bronze at the “House that Kobe Built.” The tragedy, a year ago this week, left everyone in L.A. in tears. Mixed with purple and gold, they washed over the world.

Lakers Nation became a global family.

Kobe’s career

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For most professional basketball players, scoring 20 points is having a good game. Kobe Bryant averaged 25 points a game over his entire 20-year career with the Lakers.

The best duo in basketball history, Kobe and Shaq, won back-to-back-to-back titles in 2000, 2001, and 2002. Then came the dog days of the Shaq-less purple and gold. In 2006, Shaquille “Shaq” O’Neal got another ring on his own with the Miami Heat.

Then Kobe led the Lakers back to the NBA Finals in 2008, winning back-to-back world titles in 2009 and 2010. He played in seven NBA Finals, winning five of them (a 25% championship-winning percentage over his career).

Kobe never missed games to conserve energy or heal from nagging injuries during the long NBA season. The Lakers refused to adopt a “load management” strategy for star players while preparing for the playoffs. Kobe held nothing back. His tireless preparation for the game he loved and his relentless play on the court is known as “Mamba Mentality.”

When the Mamba retired, he pursued new passions. He walked the red carpet at the Oscars and left with a golden statuette for Best Animated Short Film. Then he went home to his family, back to being dad, coaching his daughter’s basketball team.

The fog

On the morning of January 26, 2020, the fog was so thick from my window it choked the street and smothered a massive heritage oak tree. The same foggy conditions hampered the helicopter flight path with Kobe, his daughter Gianna and seven others aboard. I stepped onto my balcony as two coyotes emerged from the fog. The pair stopped, looked up, then sped off in a blur of skinny legs. They disappeared into a shroud of gray mist.

My iPhone lit up with the news that Kobe’s helicopter burst into flames as it struck a hillside in the fog. Soon after, Kobe’s wife Vanessa spoke publicly, saying, “There aren’t enough words to describe our pain.” A year later, there still are not.

The crash site was less than 35 miles from my loft. Whenever my mind goes back to that day, I see the picture of Kobe and Gianna smiling at the Staples Center memorial.

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As we mark the anniversary of the tragic crash, we also mourn the loss of over 15,000 Angelinos to the 2020 pandemic.

There aren’t enough words to describe our pain.



Rick Thomas
Author Rick Thomas is the former museum curator and vice-chair of education for the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. He served on the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, helping to maintain a strict policy protecting the city’s great old-growth trees. Using touchstone photographs from his own collection—one of the San Gabriel Valley’s largest accumulations of historical images and artifacts—as well as national, state, and local historical archives, Thomas provides a window to his city’s past and an understanding of why its preservation is so important.