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Memories of Kobe suddenly become more sweet than bitter

He hated the Suns. He beat the Suns. But in memoriam, he was just simply one of the best ever to play the game.

Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns, Game 6 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Like the rest of you, I could not process what suddenly burst across my timeline and text log yesterday. The words were there, but they had no meaning. No context. I immediately began searching for more and more proof, though I knew that Woj tweeting it was all I really needed.

Kobe Bryant is among those dead in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, a source confirms to ESPN.

—Adrian Wojnarowski, ESPN

That was it. Just the one tweet from Woj. So I turned on ESPN. It was the Pro Bowl. I turned to the networks. No dice there either. The announcers actually mentioned Kobe’s death over their chosen broadcasts, but clearly did not know any more than I did.

So I flipped to one of the 24-hour news dealios and just left it on while I watched Twitter refresh over and over. At least an hour passed before more confirmations came in. The laundry didn’t get done. The residence didn’t get cleaned. Costco missed out on a bit of revenue.

When confirmation came that daughter Gianna was on the plane with him, all I could think was the devastation left to Kobe’s wife, Vanessa. She has been left behind to raise three children without a father before getting time to grieve first. She won’t have the chance to curl into a ball and disappear for a while after the loss of her husband and their 13-year old daughter. Vanessa, who is just 37 years old, has been with Kobe her entire adult life after marrying him as soon as she turned 18. Kobe was 22 years old at the time of the wedding.

I am especially sad for Vanessa. Yes, she will have money. But no money can heal the loss of husband and daughter in one fell swoop.

My mind went to Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams. He himself was married for 20 years, producing five children, when his wife Ingrid was killed in a car accident in 2016.

“I’m sad for Vanessa and those girls. That’s the deal. I’m just sad for them,” Williams said yesterday before the Suns took on the Grizzlies in a matinee game.

Monty has spent the last five years being who Vanessa will now have to be. He quit basketball for a year just to deal with the loss and try to keep his family together. It took him two years to want a full-time coaching job again. Even now, when I asked him in October the significance of being a head coach for the first time since his loss, Monty had to choke back emotion and politely decline to comment until after the game.

Vanessa will have even more to deal with than Monty did. She lost a daughter too. At the same time.

My first wife lost her teenage brother in a car accident, and their mom — who still had five other young children to raise all by herself — never quite recovered from the loss of her son and the family suffered greatly. Losing a spouse is devastating. Losing a child somehow makes it 1,000 times worse.

Please offer your prayers and/or good wishes to Vanessa Bryant and her children.

Now that’s off my chest, let’s talk about Kobe a bit. The maniac left me some very bad tasting memories. To this day, I can’t watch the 2010 Conference Finals on replay.

Kobe Bryant was legendary and he showed it for 20 NBA seasons. Five time champion. 18-time All-Star. Two-time Olympic gold medalist. And the NBA’s fourth-highest scoring player of all time.

But as a Suns fan, I hated Kobe the player. And, in my mind, Kobe the person sucked pretty bad too. At the height of his powers, he’d stepped out on his wife. Not only did he step out on her, he was accused of forcing a 19-year old hotel employee to have sex with him. That’s disgusting. Yet he eventually paid off his accuser to continue his freedom and unabashed idolatry.

Now, in the wake of his sudden passing, I am humbled to realize that my anger at Kobe the player has disappeared. In its place is the appreciation I should have always had for Kobe’s brilliance. He carried the Lakers to the Finals that year, and it just happened to be against the Suns he smashed in the Western Conference Finals.

And for the moment, my anger at Kobe the person has dissipated too. He was by all accounts an excellent father and devoted husband. Vanessa stayed. They had more children together. Kobe glowed over his kids. He coached his daughters’ basketball teams. He supported many good causes. If he continued being a complete a-hole, he did a much better job making sure we never heard about it. And now he’s gone, but his wife and family will be financially secure for the rest of their lives.

RIP Kobe. Prayers, Bryant family.

Now, let’s hear from some other Bright Side alumni on their memories of Kobe:

Sean Sullivan (contributor 2010-2016)

It’s difficult to pare down memories of a generational talent like Kobe to just a few. How many memories of game-winners? How many memories of vicious cross-overs and cold-blooded daggers? For me, Kobe was unique in that there was no player I despised more throughout most of his early career, yet respected and admired more later in his career, and in his life after the NBA.

To illustrate that further, the Raja Bell clothesline on Kobe in game 5 of the playoffs was like a breath of fresh air for me at the time. Kobe was the arrogant, cocky, villain that Suns fans loved to hate, and Raja handed him his just desserts.

However, as he continued to play late in his career, I saw Kobe differently. He showed unbelievable resolve, commitment, and toughness. He expected nothing less than greatness from himself and those around him. His work ethic and hustle was second to none.

I was in attendance at Kobe’s final game in Phoenix, covering the game for BSOTS. I will always remember his final press conference with the Phoenix media. This was a different side of Kobe. He was affable, complementary to the Suns team and future superstar in the making (that was the night he gave Book the “Be Legendary” shoes), and reflective on an amazing career and history playing against the Suns. He was a true class-act and a legend of the game.

RIP Kobe Bean Bryant.

Jim Coughenour (contributor since 2010)

Jim refers us to his article on Kobe a few years ago. He concludes the story, written in 2013 which is two years before Kobe retired, in a way that you might be able to relate to.

I need Kobe Bryant. Kobe is part of what makes sports so great. He is the villain. He is the Joker to the Phoenix Suns Batman.

And right now he’s the last unicorn in the league. The Spurs don’t really do it for me. I was actually cheering for them in the Finals last year. I respect their organization. What other rivalries are there for the Suns right now?

Who do you look forward to watching? What games do you have circled on the schedule?

How many playoff series have been as great as the first rounder against LA in the 2006 playoffs where Tim Thomas hit that three to help the Suns overcome 50 from Bryant in game six before watching Kobe quit oh his teammates in a game seven blow out?

And when Kobe does eventually hang up that ugly ass Lakers jersey (but not before crippling his team’s chances to compete by taking up cap space with a contract he can’t possible need financially - big ups on that one), the league will be worse for it.

I’m actually ready for the Suns’ next Kobe Bryant to come along now. Another player I can have that much fun cheering against.

So welcome back, Kobe. I don’t hate you... sports need people like you (yes, that’s a sideways insult). I hope you know I missed you... and I hope that makes you hate the Suns even more.

Seth Pollack (editor till 2012)

I was never a fan of Kobe Bryant. Not as a Suns fan. Not as a basketball fan. Not as a media member covering him. But what’s undeniable about his legacy, and the reaction to this tragedy has only solidified as fact, is his impact on and off the court. This loss will leave a giant hole in the NBA community but that’s nothing compared to the inconceivable loss to the Bryant family. My heart breaks for them as it does for every family that loses a child.

As for my own lasting memories, Kobe’s performance against the Suns in the 2010 Western Conference Finals is the obvious choice. Going into that series without a healthy Robin Lopez, the Suns were an underdog, but had a decent shot at beating the Lakers and going back to the Finals. It was, in my opinion, their best chance of the Nash era. The Lakers with Kobe as the star were stacked. Pau Gasol in his prime. Lamar Odom playing great. Ron Artest killing it. And Andrew Bynum in one of his few effective seasons. That was a very good basketball team. But the Suns were strong as well, and had better depth and incredible chemistry. Most people remember Jason Richardson’s mistake and Artest’s putback in Game 5 but for me it’s always been Kobe’s shotmaking that made the difference. As a Suns fan, I had nightmares of all the times Grant Hill was right up in Kobe’s face and forced a difficult fading 17-footer. Losing to those hero shots is 100% Kobe. Kobe averaged 34 points and 8 assists on 52% shooting in the series and I never felt like the Suns didn’t guard him well.

Covering Kobe for several years during his frequent visits to Phoenix wasn’t always special. He was distant. Difficult. Terse. Sometimes sarcastic or even rude. But in that, he was no different than other stars on the road. LeBron, KG. Durant. The extra crush of local non-sports media covering each visit with countless inane questions would weigh on anyone. Imagine going to your workplace with that kind of distraction and annoyance. One instance stands out, however, and I think it was a glimpse of full Mamba but in the locker room scrum:

This was 2012 and the Lakers weren’t at championship form. Trade rumors were swirling around Pau Gasol, and Kobe was fed up and decided to use this postgame session to send a clear message to his teammates and ownership. He waited a long time to come out of the private training area and address the media. In my mind’s telling, he was waiting for the non-sports hacks to clear out so he could give what he knew would be explosive quotes only to those basketball scribes dedicated enough to wait for him. Or maybe he was on the phone with his agent planning what to say. Or maybe he had an upset stomach and spent a long time in the bathroom. Who knows. But he came out and took his shots and because I was the only one left with a video camera he got me a credit on SportsCenter. Thanks, Kobe.

Your turn, Bright Side.

What are you memories of Kobe Bryant?

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