None more LA: remembering Kobe Bryant
The Black Mamba wasn't an LA native, but no one was more natively LA.
Los Angeles is big. Depending on where you think “LA” begins and ends, it spans beaches and deserts; mansions and mini-malls; Armenia to Ethiopia and all of America. It’s home to practically every language, every industry, every diversion, every food, teeming with our individual dreams and nightmares that may overlap but don’t always intersect.
The Los Angeles Lakers are the only thing that belongs to all of us. Lakers basketball is our lingua franca, our religion, the force that makes people party on Figueroa and get tattoos and feel like Los Angeles really is what it’s cracked up to be.
Now we know it can also stop the city’s heart. Make us pull off to the side of the road and sob, emptying our streets, which is so not LA. Scream at its mountains and its marine layer, and at the raw absurdity, which sometimes is all too LA.
Los Angeles is big. Kobe Bryant was bigger. They say nobody’s from here, and he wasn’t, but he was of here and for here. His death, and that of his daughter Gianna, who could’ve one day made the Sparks another pan-Angeleno phenomenon, is a before and after moment for the city. Something’s been ripped away from us, and it’s hard to get our heads around.
Pretty early on, Kobe got his head around the idea of taking over the city. He knew what becoming the Greatest Laker meant and how impossible that was and he went and did it anyway. Thanks to him, a miserable Lakers squad gets more attention than a Dodgers team making back-to-back World Series. The current best player in the world ain’t wearing Forum blue and gold unless Kobe shows him what it means to win here.
Lineage has worked in basketball extensively, and up until recently, entirely within the Kobe Bryant epoch. We got our start in the mid-00s, coinciding with Kobe’s unprecedented second prime in which he went from scoring titles and first-round losses to three more Finals appearances and two more wins. In his last healthy season, he put up numbers as good as ever, timed perfectly with the rise of Instagram highlight reels. When he dropped 60 points on 50 shots in his last NBA game, the internet celebrated it as perhaps the most Kobe game possible, for good and for bad: eye-popping scoring, an unwarranted number of missed three-pointers and mid-range jumpers, a spectacle that eclipsed the Warriors’ record 73rd win of the season.
Sports fandom has an unmatched ability to make us lose our minds. Kobe fandom, as was his way, took it to its illogical extreme. Just look at the Twitter discourse surrounding him—or don’t!—to see how the most ardent “citizens of Kobestan” became even more hellacious defenders than he was. Did you know Kobe holds the record for most three-pointers in a game? He doesn’t; that record belongs to Klay Thompson. But he used to, and there’s undoubtedly a cohort of fans out there insisting he still does.
Kobe permeated the culture in less polarizing ways. For about 15 years, Lakers fan or not, any time you shot a crumpled-up piece of paper into a wastebasket, or launched dirty laundry into a hamper, you shouted his name. It was funny when you missed—apropos of the NBA’s all-time leading bricklayer. But it was especially fitting when you made it. You didn’t exclaim “Kobe!” because he was the league’s greatest shooter or its biggest star, but because, like Kobe, you were willing the thing into the basket.
Though his career intersected with the rise of social media, Kobe was never very online. One of his most memorable tweets came shortly after he joined Twitter, and is among the corniest things ever posted. And despite our immersion in the basketball scene, we never worked with him; the Black Mamba was ever-elusive, and more likely to do things on his own anyway.
In 2020, Lineage was finally on the cusp of a collaboration. We’re currently shooting a documentary on Vince Carter’s final season, and had reached out to Vince’s contemporaries to be interviewed. The morning before he passed, we received an email greenlighting his participation. As sports marketers, as Lakers fans, as LA natives, it would have been an unimaginably exciting moment. Kobe conditioned us all to expect those.