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Bryant and Baseball: Kobe’s Relationship With The Dodgers

On January 26th, 2020, the world found out 41-year-old former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna, and 7 others, had passed in a helicopter accident. The news shocked everyone, from hardcore sports fans to casual watchers, to people who never watched him play. His influence was far-reaching, and his work ethic is still felt in the phrase ‘Mamba Mentality”. Being a Celtics fan, I was fortunate enough to see some great performances, despite being on the receiving end. So, all I want to do is sit and remember Kobe and talk about the impact he had on Dodgers baseball, and how his presence will be felt forever. 

Kobe first stepped foot in the Lakers franchise and Los Angeles pop culture on June 26th, 1996, during that years’ NBA Draft, when the Charlotte Hornets traded the high school senior from Lower Merion HS in Philadelphia, who they had selected 13th overall to Los Angeles for assets that are not particularly important and not as good as Kobe. Kobe immediately entered the spotlight, winning the Slam Dunk contest his rookie season. Kobe, of course, paired with Shaq, won championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002, and then won two more without Shaq in 2009 and 2010. The 2000 championship, where the Lakers defeated head coach Larry Bird, star player Reggie Miller and the Indiana Pacers in 6 games, was the first championship for any Los Angeles franchise from the NBA, NHL NFL, or MLB since the Dodgers won it all in 1988. 

Kobe started his relationship with the Dodgers almost immediately once he made it to Los Angeles. He was, ironically, a Mets fan growing up in Philadelphia, but that didn’t seem to stop him from bonding with Dodgers old and new. One of Kobe’s closest friends in Los Angeles towards the beginning of his career was former Dodgers 3rd baseman Gary Sheffield, who was traded to L.A. by the Marlins in 1998 for Mike Piazza and other assets. Countless others, such as former stars like Adrian Gonzalez, veterans like Clayton Kershaw, and up-and-comers like Cody Bellinger all looked up to Kobe. Kobe wasn’t just in the stands; he threw out the first pitch of the Dodgers 2015 season, and he read the Dodgers’ lineup before Game 4 of the 2018 World Series, which are probably the highest honors a fan can have. Only a day before the crash, Kobe released a video in conjunction with the Dodgers congratulating Cody Bellinger on winning the 2019 NL MVP. 

After he passed, there was, of course, an outpouring of support for Kobe and his family. Stars far and wide came out and talked about how Kobe had impacted their lives. Some of the most notable celebrities to speak out were Dodgers players. Justin Turner, Kike Hernandez, and the aforementioned Clayton Kershaw and Cody Bellinger came out with heartfelt responses. Turner and Kershaw, who while growing up in Southern California watched plenty of Lakers basketball in the winter, were both crushed by the news. Turner said, “I was just shaking, he was so ambitious about that stuff and had huge plans and you don’t see that a lot of times from superstars when their careers are over,”, and Kershaw added, “As far as his presence and just what he meant to this city. Being here now and playing sports here for the last 12 years, everybody talks about Kobe.” [1]

In the last 5 or 6 years, Kobe had sort of moved up from just being a basketball player, albeit one of the greatest ever to grace the court, to being an ambassador of both the game of basketball, the sport that he had put his whole life into, and of Los Angeles, the city where he had spent the first 20 years of his adult life playing the sport that he loved so much. With that deep connection to Los Angeles, Kobe of course because intertwined with other sports teams in the city, with the Dodgers being a huge part of Kobe’s life.  Today, February 24th, is Kobe’s memorial at Staples Center, maybe this will bring us all some sort of closure, but it will never fill the hole that he left.

[1] https://www.latimes.com/sports/dodgers/story/2020-01-27/huge-kobe-bryant-fans-justin-turner-clayton-kershaw-mourn-death