As the basketball world collectively mourns the titanic loss of Kobe Bryant, thousands have already shared their prayers and memories of the future Hall of Famer.
From the heartbreaking daggers he would deal against your favorite team. From his relentless, and almost psychopathic pursuit to be the best. Kobe was the NBA to a generation.
Kobe was supposed to become an old man. He was to become a reminder of a time long ago when players were driven by the ghost of Michael Jordan. His smile was going to be a staple court side at All-Star games and future Los Angeles Lakers playoff games.
You could almost see it in your mind. Kobe sitting next to other former stars during All-Star week, chopping it up about how they could out-duel these young bucks in Luka Doncic or Bronny James.
That is how it was supposed to be. Life, sometimes takes a cruel random turn.
Instead, we are left to remember what was rather than debate what will be. Children lost their father. A wife lost her husband. Friends lost a friend. The NBA lost an icon.
It is important to remember that Kobe wasn’t a superhuman, despite what his basketball exploits may have you believe. He was a regular human being with many of the same flaws and struggles we deal with. His tragic passing does not wash away the events of 2003 in Eagle, Colorado. There will be more time for his overall legacy, but for now the focus is on the tragic loss of life.
Of course, that legacy of Kobe Bryant does intersect with Oklahoma City.
For his first nine seasons, Oklahoma City wasn’t an NBA city. That all changed when another tragic event in New Orleans caused the Hornets to temporarily call Oklahoma home. This would set things in motion for the 2010 Western Conference playoffs.
The Thunder were the not-yet-ready-for-primetime stars. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were the stars. James Harden was a rookie rocking a headband and a beard unworthy of prose. The Lakers were led by Kobe and the unmoveable tandem of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
Oklahoma City’s introduction to playoff basketball was in a pit of mambas.
But those young Thunders hung tough. The Lakers acted as the crucible for Oklahoma City’s desire to belong in the NBA.
The Thunder would lose that series but the foundation was there. Oklahoma City belonged in the NBA and the league was put on notice. Kobe would go on to win his final NBA championship.
Oklahoma City would meet Kobe once again. This time, the Thunder were more mature — having learned their lessons during the 2010 playoffs and the 2011 Western Conference Finals run. If the Thunder were truly a contender, they had to pass the Mamba test.
This culminated in a TNT broadcast, Game 5 elimination game in Oklahoma City. The Thunder had 18,000 strong in Chesapeake Energy Arena ready to see the Lakers sent home for the summer.
It was a showcase event for Oklahoma City. Former sideline reporter Craig Sager routinely stepped outside the arena to show the thousands — of which a particular sportswriter was a part of — packed between the arena and the Cox Convention Center who didn’t have tickets for the game.
The atmosphere of Thunder Alley — and the arena inside — was amazing. Yes, it was exciting to see Oklahoma City back in the Western Conference Finals once again. But it meant more that it came against the Lakers. It meant more that it came against Kobe.
It was Kobe’s last hurrah. He would never play in another playoff game again. One of the greatest to ever play said goodbye to the NBA postseason in Oklahoma City.
Do not think this to be hyperbolic. Without Kobe, the Thunder do not become what they eventually became. The test was necessary for growth. Someone as iconic as Kobe could only be that test. For that Oklahoma City basketball will always be thankful for Kobe’s contributions to the game and for his place in Thunder basketball history.
So now we return from memories to the reality of Kobe Bryant’s death. Rarely does an athlete truly transcend his or her sport into the realm of the cultural zeitgeist. You can put Kobe in that category.
In addition to Kobe’s passing, his daughter 13-year old Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant was also on board during the fatal helicopter. This is a dark day for basketball.
Since the news hit, the NBA has continued. There have been moments of silence and tributes in different forms.
Many called for the NBA to cancel these games. Kobe’s iconic status is no doubt worthy enough to move mountains.
While many players may very well appreciate the day off to mourn and reflect, the beauty of continuing to play seems poetic. Kobe, a lover of poetry, may very well have wanted everyone to keep playing. The Mamba Mentality demands it.
So when you watch basketball tonight or tomorrow, appreciate the game and appreciate those playing it. Kobe did.
Brady Trantham has covered the Oklahoma City Thunder for The Franchise since April 2018 and for Thunder Digest since 2016. He hosts a Thunder podcast with Madysson Morris “OKC-82 Podcast” which can be found on all podcast outlets, and is a featured co-host on the Franchise Thunder Insider’s Show on Saturdays from 10-12. He also hosts the “Locked on Thunder” podcast, part of the Locked On Podcast Network Monday through Friday. For Sooner fans, you can also listen to the “Inside OU” podcast with John Hoover. Brady also runs the “Locked On Sooners” podcast Monday through Friday. Brady is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma class of 2014. Follow him on Twitter @BradyDoesSports