Even as games are being played, it feels as though the basketball world has come to a standstill in the wake of Kobe Bryant’s sudden death. The Lakers haven’t played since, and their first game after the tragedy was postponed. The Lakers, the league, and teams have released statements after Sunday, but the NBA has yet to give any indication how (or if) it plans to memorialize Bryant more formally. Here are some thoughts on how the league can recognize Bryant and his impact on the sport moving forward.
The NBA will have ample opportunity to recognize Bryant in Chicago from Feb. 14–16 during All-Star Weekend. The league has always done well honoring legends over the All-Star break, and numerous former players are always in attendance no matter what. The game taking place in Chicago should provide some added meaning because of the connection between Kobe and Michael Jordan. Organizing a panel of greats, past and present, seems like an easy way to start celebrating Kobe’s memory. Could Bryant’s importance put people like LeBron, Shaq, and MJ on the same stage to discuss what it was like playing against (and with) him? Whatever the league decides to do, All-Star Weekend probably feels like the right time to start more celebratory remembrances of Bryant as opposed to somber ones (though there will obviously be room for both.)
And this is an idea that’s been floating around on Twitter, but naming the All-Star Game MVP trophy after Kobe seems like a no-brainer. Bryant is tied with Bob Pettit for most ASG MVPs, each having won the award four times. The NBA’s other major trophies—the Larry O’Brien, and the Maurice Podoloff MVP trophy—are named after former commissioners. The All-Star Game is a celebration of players, and it feels right that the weekend’s trophy commemorate someone who performed on the court. Not only is Kobe is a four-time All-Star MVP, his 18 All-Star selections are second in NBA history only to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Naming the trophy after him would have been appropriate no matter the circumstance. In the wake of his death, this is a sensible way for the league to fold his importance into its marquee event moving forward.
As evidenced by Nike selling out of all of its Kobe gear online, it’s obvious there’s a rush for fans to consume any and all items related to Bryant. This seems like an easy opportunity for the NBA and Nike to collaborate on either a brand-new Kobe line or re-issue his old shoes and jerseys, and use 100% of the proceeds to contribute to different causes. The causes can reflect what Bryant was passionate about. The money could be used to build basketball courts and other infrastructure around the world to recognize Bryant’s global impact. In retirement, Bryant began producing stories and videos geared toward kids. Perhaps the proceeds from his merchandise sales could continue that work, or find another way to reach and impact future generations. The NBA and Nike have too much money as it is. Profiting from the Bryant tragedy would be inappropriate, coming together and finding a way to use the immense consumer interest in him for good deeds would be refreshing.
Honor Gianna and the Other Families As Well
Bryant was not the only person killed Sunday. Eight other people lost their lives as well, and the league is in a position to help them. Proceeds from any sales could also be donated to the other families involved in the helicopter crash that took Bryant’s life. Bryant’s daughter Gianna dreamed of playing in the WNBA. How can the NBA and WNBA honor her dreams as well? Bryant became an advocate for the women in basketball later in life (though not to the comfort of everyone, particularly those who feel he didn’t properly reckon with his 2003 sexual assault charge.) The league is in a position now to use the groundswell of support behind Kobe and Gianna to also raise more awareness for women who love and play basketball. Open up an academy in Gianna’s name. Create scholarship funds for women who wish to play in the WNBA. Use Kobe’s and Gianna’s combined love for the sport to promote more women working in the NBA as well.
Ultimately, while personal feelings toward Kobe occupy a wide spectrum, there is undoubtedly a rush of support for him around the world. The best way for the NBA to honor Bryant isn’t only through jersey patches or trophy names. It’s to use the massive support for Kobe and Gianna and make it actionable to help present and future generations of many different kinds of people.