It has been 72 hours since news broke that Kobe Bryant, his second daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash. Days later, part of me still struggles to accept this information as fact.
Before my induction into the world of fashion, I was, and still am, an avid basketball fan. It ran in my veins. If I wasn't on the court, I would read about it, or I'd play NBA Live or watch any of the countless mixtapes of the game I could get my eyes on.
My world revolved around the sport, and in that constellation, Bryant was one of the stars that shined the brightest. He came into the scene as a brash, 17-year-old basketball prodigy who seemed preordained for greatness. His high school career at Lower Merion High School saw him break Wilt Chamberlain’s Pennsylvania scoring records and he won a state championship. He played like the second coming of Michael Jordan; determined to remake the game in his own image. It sounds like hubris—a man, maniacal enough, to take on the Herculean task of being the best to ever play the game or die trying.
Make no mistake: Bryant was an extremely gifted athlete. His Hall of Fame resume is in rarified air. Bryant, who was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets and then traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996, became the first guard to play 20 years in the NBA. His accolades include being an 18-time All-Star; a 15-time member of the All-NBA team; a 12-time member of the All-Defence team; a winner of five NBA championships; a two-time scoring champion and finals MVP; ranking fourth on the all-time points scored in the game and winner of the MVP award in the 2008 season.
What endears Bryant to die-heart basketballs fans, as well as his greatest critics, is for all his superhuman feats on the court, he was still prone to human failures. Take the infamous play in the Western Conference Finals where he shot four air-balls and cost the Lakers both the game and series. His record game where he scored 81 points, was set amidst a season where the Lakers lost in the first round of the playoffs despite a 3-1 series lead. That would be enough to crush the confidence of most players, but he used this failure as fuel to drive him.
Even a torn Achilles tendon didn't halt him. He famously limped to the free-throw line right after the accident and sunk both free-throws. Consider that sentence for a moment—Bryant had zero control over his foot and was racked in agonising pain, but still, he made the shots.
He might not have been his stellar self after the injury but Bryant still finished his career by scoring 60 points in his very last game. For all the preternatural talent he possessed on the court, Bryant's cultural impact goes beyond the hardwood floor because we can always relate to the notion of overcoming adversity through sheer will and work ethic. We may not be able to jump as high or shoot the ball as well, but, for damn sure, we can work hard at it.
For all the good that he has embodied, Bryant can be difficult. His feud with Shaquille O'Neal broke up the Lakers dynasty and drove his coach, Phil Jackson, into retirement. He had numerous run-ins with teammates that painted him as a massive heel. He wasn't afraid to call them out as soft, and once after being blown out in a game, decided to go around the locker to remove the shoes of the players wearing his signature line with Nike—all because they couldn't play up to the standards that he had set.
Furthermore, it is hard to discuss the legacy of Bryant without mentioning the rape allegations against him in 2003. The incident happened in the summer, while Bryant was in Colorado for knee surgery. While never formally charged due to the accuser's refusal to testify, Bryant publicly apologised to her, saying, "although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognise now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.” For all the greatness that Bryant displayed on the court, this incident is a human stain on his legacy.
I'm not here to defend or canonise him, but rather to discuss the ongoing petition to change the NBA logo to Kobe Bryant's silhouette, in memory of his untimely death. But it is impossible to separate one from the other. Bryant's legacy was a complex one that featured great extremes: at his best, he symbolised everything that was great about the sport; and, at his worst, he epitomised every pitfall of being an athlete. While the petition is a nice sentiment, and if it goes through no one would ever fault the league for doing so, it is never going to happen.
The NBA has never acknowledged that the logo was modelled after fellow NBA and Laker legend, Jerry West, despite the designer, Alan Siegel, often saying that he used a picture of West as the inspiration for the design. In an interview with ESPN, West said, “I don’t like to do anything to call attention to myself… If they would want to change it, I wish they would. In many ways, I wish they would.”
In another interview, when asked who would be deserving of replacing him as the logo, West said, “I hate to say it’s not a Laker, but Michael Jordan. He’s been the greatest player I’ve ever seen. And I’m probably a harsh judge of talent in the sense that I admire players that are really good defensive players and really good offensive players. And I felt that at his time in the game, he was the best defensive player in the game, but more importantly, he was the best offensive player. And he made his teams win.”
Condensing Bryant's legacy into a single logo is a disservice to the full narrative of his body of work. His post-basketball career saw him winning an Oscar for his short film 'Dear Basketball', which was based on a poem he’d written to announce his retirement from the game; start the Sports Academy, a way to teach basketball to both male and female athletes; promote women's basketball; as well as continuously inspire the next generation of children to pick up the sport.
The debate on changing the logo will always be brought up when an NBA legend passes on. As cold as it might sound, what happens when Michael Jordan, the player most widely considered to be the best, but who hasn't recently played the game, leaves this mortal plane? Would we petition for yet another switch in the NBA's logo?
In the debate of changing the logo to Bryant's likeness, we should bear in mind what the man himself had to say about greatness. In an interview, Bryant said, "I think the definition of greatness is to inspire the person next to you, I think that's what greatness is or should be. It is not something that lives or dies with one person. It is how can you inspire a person, to then, in turn, inspire the next person, who then inspires another person. That's how you create something that, I think, lasts forever."
I think Bryant has done that and would prefer leaving a legacy that would continue to inspire the generations that come long after him, rather than his likeness on the NBA logo.