People across the world are mourning the death of retired NBA legend Kobe Bryant. The former Los Angeles Laker guard and eight others were killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning in Calabasas, California. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was among the victims.
Charlotte Hornets owner and Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Michael Jordan released a statement, saying in part:
“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling. I loved Kobe – he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply – and he took great pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball…”
Though Bryant’s professional career spanned two decades, at age 41, he was still relatively young. His post-basketball career quickly took off. In 2018, he won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short and released a book. Bryant also coached youth basketball. The global figure was likely going to achieve things much bigger than winning championships.
My feelings regarding his passing can be summed up in a tweet: “Tomorrow is not promised. How you impact others is more important than how long you lived to do it.”
As a basketball fan, I began to think about all that Bryant was able to accomplish in his life. What keeps popping up in my head is, “what if?” That phrase often ignites deep reflection and contemplation. Here were some of the “what ifs” I pondered.
What if Kobe went to college?
Bryant was a highly sought after recruit, and many speculated it was going to come down to Duke University or UNC Chapel Hill. In 2007, Duke seemed to settle the debate when they quoted Bryant:
“There’s no maybe about it. Every time I turn on the TV and see Cameron Indoor Stadium, see everybody in Krzyzewskiville and see the Crazies jumping up in down with the intensity and the building almost shaking, I wonder what it would have been like to play there with Corey [Maggette] and Elton [Brand] and all those guys.”
However, in a 2013 interview with Jimmy Kimmel, Bryant said he would’ve chosen Chapel Hill because he would’ve loved to have played alongside, and competed against, UNC’s Vince Carter.
A 2017 tweet showed that Bryant flipped back to Duke when a fan asked what college he would’ve attended.
What if Kobe stayed with the Charlotte Hornets?
It’s June 26, 1996, and the 50th NBA Draft is underway.
Considered one of the deepest drafts in NBA history, it featured future NBA stars like No. 1 pick Allen Iverson; Ray Allen; Steve Nash; and Columbia, South Carolina native, Jermaine O’Neal. But, a 17-year-old kid from Philadelphia would forever change the NBA and have Charlotte fans wonder what if.
NBA Commissioner David Stern approached the podium and announced, “With the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, the Charlotte Hornets select Kobe Bryant from Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania.”
Depending on who you ask, there are different versions of why the young man, who became arguably one of the greatest athletes of this generation, was immediately traded to the Los Angeles Lakers for Vlade Divac. Some say he never wanted to play for the Hornets; others say the Hornets didn’t want him.
What if Kobe was never involved in the sexual assault allegation?
Bryant had a dark chapter in 2003 when he was arrested and charged with sexual assault, stemming from an incident with a 19-year-old hotel resort worker in Colorado. Bryant, who was married at the time, publicly admitted to his infidelity but said the encounter was consensual.
The criminal case did go to trial, but charges were dropped. Following the trial, he issued a statement apologizing to the woman. A civil case was settled out of court.
He lost some respect from various groups and was dropped from several endorsement deals. He worked to repair his image ever since. Some have forgiven him, but it will forever be connected to his legacy.
What if Shaq and Kobe never broke up?
Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant played together from 1996-2004. The duo formed the foundation for the Lakers’ dynasty that won three consecutive NBA championships (2000, 2001, 2002) and a Finals appearance in 2004. However, controversy over who to feature in the offense, team commitment, and off-the-court issues — including Bryant’s sexual assault allegation — destroyed the team chemistry.
The Lakers were forced to let one of them go. The team traded Shaq in 2004 to the Miami Heat, where he helped Miami win its first NBA Championship two years later. Would Shaq and Kobe have won more titles?
What if Charlotte had been selected for the 2016 All-Star Game?
Charlotte was selected as the host city for the 2017 NBA All-Star Weekend. Ultimately, it moved to New Orleans due to controversy surrounding North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which limited bathroom access for transgender people.
What if Charlotte had hosted the 2016 All-Star Game — Bryant’s final selection? When the NBA decided that Charlotte would host the 2019 game, Dirk Nowitzki and Dwyane Wade had already announced it would be their final season. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver named both players as All-Star special team roster additions. Nowitzki and Wade became a big part of the weekend’s theme.
Bryant made 19 All-Star Weekend appearances, but never in Charlotte.
The Queen City created a poetic memory for Bryant — the team that drafted him potentially could have played host during his final All-Star appearance.
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