Plaschke: Kobe Bryant's legacy shines bright four years after his death

Kobe Bryant begins the celebration as the Lakers beat the Celtics for the NBA Championship at Staples Center.

Four years after his death, Kobe Bryant is still heard.

When the Dodgers were courting superstar Shohei Ohtani this winter, they needed an inspirational voice to seal the deal. They needed a powerful closer to deliver a final winning pitch.

They showed a video of Kobe.

It was from 2017. It was Bryant spouting the wonders of Dodger blue. Ohtani saw it and was sold. He signed a 10-year, $700-million contract while citing Bryant’s words as one of the reasons.

Four years after his death, Kobe Bryant is still unstoppable.

Read more: Want to visit Kobe Bryant murals? Here are 24 in Los Angeles and 8 in Orange County

In the fall of 2023, a large downtown Los Angeles mural of Bryant and daughter Gianna wearing angel wings was in danger of being removed by the building’s landlords.

His fans wouldn’t let it happen. More than 90,000 signatures filled an online petition and the video company 2K Games eventually cut a deal with the landlord to leave the mural standing.

Four years after his death, Kobe Bryant still lives.

Since his life was cut tragically short on this date at age 41 in a helicopter crash that also claimed the life of Gianna and seven others, Bryant’s impact has subsequently grown beyond any measure of imagination.

Athletes still reference him. Fans still chant for him. An entire generation still learns from him. And, yes, it’s not your imagination, lots of kids are named after him. According to the Associated Press, more than 1,500 newborn boys and dozens of newborn girls took his name in 2020.

Plenty of other Kobes who were born while he was still alive have since come of age. There’s even a Kobe who plays professional basketball in Los Angeles, for the Clippers, an appropriately tough kid named Kobe Brown.

Bryant is painfully missing from courtside seats or talk shows or corporate offices or any of the numerous places he was visible when he was alive and settling into a rewarding retirement.

But he’s still everywhere.

A mural at 3Ten Liquor in Torrance pays tribute to Kobe Bryant.
A mural at 3Ten Liquor in Torrance pays tribute to Kobe Bryant. Chuck Schilken / Los Angeles TimesA Melrose Ave. mural honors Kobe Bryant. Chuck Schilken / Los Angeles Times

There are more than 600 murals around the world featuring Bryant, including 26 in Los Angeles. Early next month the Lakers will unveil a Bryant statue outside Arena. Yet perhaps the most compelling tribute is found on the thighs of Lakers LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Both have Kobe Bryant tattoos.

“You were the first guy to put me under your wing and show me the ins and outs of the league,” Davis wrote to the late Bryant in a social media post. “Had so many great convos about so many things and I will cherish those moments forever. Love you forever, Bean!"

It should be no surprise that the biggest shot by the Lakers in the last decade contained Bryant’s name, Davis screaming “Kobe” after swishing a three-pointer at the buzzer to defeat Denver in Game 2 of the 2020 Western Conference finals.

A mural outside Shoe Palace on Melrose Ave. pays tribute to Kobe Bryant.

On that day the Lakers were wearing their Black Mamba jerseys in honor of Bryant while shouting his name every time they broke a sideline huddle. Is it any wonder that victory led to a championship?

“We want to embody what Kobe Bryant stood for and honor his memory,” said then-coach Frank Vogel.

Lots of people have embodied or honored Bryant since his death, his “Mamba Mentality” philosophy guiding folks with a hill to climb or battle to fight.

Devin Booker, star guard of the Phoenix Suns, wears Bryant’s advice stenciled into his shoes — “Be legendary.”

In a story told by the Ringer, when Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott lay on the field writhing in pain after suffering a broken left foot in 2020, he was given some Mamba inspiration by the guy who hit him, the New York Giants’ Logan Ryan.

Read more: How Kobe Bryant is being celebrated on his birthday (8/23) and Mamba Day (8/24)

Ryan reportedly leaned down to Prescott and asked, “What would Kobe do?”

There are trophies for emulating what Kobe would do. There is the Kobe Bryant All-Star Game MVP Award, and there is the Kobe and Gigi Bryant WNBA Advocacy Award for contributions to women’s basketball.

Perhaps nowhere is Bryant’s legacy more acutely felt than in the women’s game, which he supported through his daughters long before it was fashionable. In late 2023, speaking to her undefeated USC women’s basketball team, Trojans coach Lindsay Gottlieb became emotional when talking about an exclusive shoe gift from Bryant’s family

“I think a lot of times about the people who cared about it before it was the thing. … Kobe cared about it before it was the cool thing to care about women’s basketball,” Gottlieb said. “I think one of the greatest things is to leave a legacy, and I think that is one of his legacies. Women’s basketball matters. Vanessa and their family have done an unbelievable job.”

A person walks by a Kobe Bryant mural on the intersection of Florence & Firestone.

Kobe Bryant would have quietly embraced all this fuss. He would have cherished his lasting impact on the world. As he grew out of his feisty youthful years, he became more aware of the importance of his legacy, and he would be thrilled it has spread all over the world.

Even to hated Boston. Even with the hated Celtics.

In what is surely the most compelling example of the power of the late Kobe Bryant, Celtics star Jayson Tatum wore a purple “24” armband in honor of Bryant during the 2022 playoffs.

Then, before a Game 7 victory in the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat, he actually texted the phone number of the late Bryant.

“I got you today,” he wrote.

Four years after Bryant’s death, more than ever, we all do.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.