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Remembering Kobe and Gianna Bryant, One Year Later

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 29: Kobe Bryant and daughter Gianna Bryant attend a basketball game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on December 29, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: This piece was originally published on January 29th, three days after Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other victims perished in a helicopter crash on January 26th, 2020.

NOW, CHAMPIONSHIPS COME AND GO. THERE’S GOING TO BE ANOTHER TEAM THAT WINS ANOTHER CHAMPIONSHIP, ANOTHER PLAYER THAT WINS ANOTHER MVP AWARD. BUT IF YOU REALLY WANT TO CREATE SOMETHING THAT LAST GENERATIONS, YOU HAVE TO HELP INSPIRE THE NEXT GENERATION... THAT’S WHEN YOU CREATE SOMETHING FOREVER. AND THAT’S WHAT’S MOST BEAUTIFUL. — KOBE BRYANT (1978-2020)

The last few days have been unlike any I can recall in my time as a sports fan. Like many, I’ve now spent hours staring at the internet in a state of shock, pouring over every highlight and tribute I can find, and I still find it hard to believe that Kobe Bryant is gone. Seeing “1978-2020” next to his name just doesn’t make any sense. I doubt it ever will.

To be honest, words seem painfully cheap at the moment. But as someone from Los Angeles who grew up cheering for Kobe and the Lakers, I feel compelled to try and articulate what he meant to my hometown, how he inspired LA, myself, and so many other fans and athletes around the world.

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CHRISTIAN PETERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

I was 3 years old when Kobe was drafted. For the next 20 years, I had the privilege of growing up in the audience of an athlete mastering his craft, night in and night out. I can still remember crowding around the TV with the rest of my family during his 81-point game. I remember watching him sink two free throws with a ruptured achilles as though it were only a blister. There were so many nights when I threw my homework aside to catch the 4th quarter of a game, knowing it was Mamba time. And I can’t tell you how many times I watched the replay of Kobe refusing to flinch when Matt Barnes pump-faked in his face.

Even in a sport full of larger-than-life personalities, and in a city overcrowded with celebrities, Kobe stood apart. His commitment to basketball was both incomparable and utterly infectious. It didn’t matter that I was a young girl playing soccer. He was still a role model, someone who taught me and many others that if you want to be great, there’s no such thing as doing too much.

As the tributes have begun to pour in over the last few days, it’s been astonishing to note the extent of Kobe’s influence. First there were the NBA games that followed on Sunday. For someone whose unapologetic competitiveness famously alienated so many of his teammates, Kobe was idolized by his peers in a way few athletes have ever been. He wasn’t just an inspiration, but a mentor to many, in and beyond the basketball world.

I’ve frankly never seen an athlete with a platform like Kobe’s give as much as he did to women’s sports. He cheered for the USWNT, he cheered for the WNBA, he cheered for women’s tennis, he cheered for women’s college basketball. And he didn’t just use his celebrity to bring these sports attention. He made real, lasting relationships with numerous female athletes, from Sabrina Ionescu to Naomi Osaka, Sydney Leroux to Elena Delle Donne. He built facilities where he invited them to train and learn from him. He coached his daughter’s basketball team. He believed in these athletes, and he made sure that they knew it. The outpouring of collective grief from the women’s sports world these last few days is entirely unprecedented. There’s no other athlete that meant this much to other athletes.

Kobe’s fanatic obsession with greatness slowly transformed into a drive to spread success as far as he could. Nowhere was this more evident than in his relationship with his daughter, Gianna. I’m gutted just thinking about the fact that they were on their way to play and coach together. My heart aches for the Bryant family and for every other family involved in the crash.

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Gianna, or Gigi, was supposed to grow up, go to UConn, and carry the Bryant legacy into the WNBA. Only 13 years old, she already had the Mamba mentality. And of all of Kobe’s retirement endeavors, none, not even the Oscar, came close to matching the incredible joy he showed in coaching his daughter. It was beyond powerful to watch an all-time great, in real time, pass along his confidence, strength, and self-belief to his proclaimed Mambacita. The fact that the helicopter was on its way to a basketball game, and was carrying multiple players and their parents, only underlines the deep tragedy of the accident.

Inevitably, you can’t tell Kobe’s story without mentioning his rape accusation. Like so many, I find it nearly impossible to reconcile the Kobe of 2003 with the Kobe of 2020, father to four girls and mentor to countless female athletes. Being a fan of Kobe has always meant trying (and usually failing) to reconcile these seemingly disparate characters. In this matter, his death provides little to no clarity.

Ultimately, I think we have to be willing to hold complicated views of complicated people. No accomplishment on or off the court will make the details of Kobe’s case any less sickening. In the same vain, it’s impossible to stand witness to the endless stream of grief and tribute that’s engulfed the sports world over these last few days and not feel awed by the transformative impact one person can have on so many others.

Kobe’s death is a painful reminder of just how emotionally invested we are in sports — more so than most of us even understand. But our grief gives us away. And while on the surface it might seem almost silly to see so many grown adults, myself included, mourning the loss of an athlete we never personally knew, the reality is that we don’t need to meet our heroes for them to have an impact on our lives. We just need to see a glimmer of our own struggles embodied and magnified in theirs. We just need to be reminded as often as possible of the heights that human audacity can achieve.

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And in the case of Kobe, his impact on our lives will continue through the profound influence he had on his fellow athletes, male and female, across all sports. More than the trophies, or the records, or his place on any “all-time” list, Kobe’s legacy will be defined by those athletes who continue to channel his spirit in their own pursuits of greatness.

Kobe first gained notoriety for his unapologetic obsession with being historically significant. But as he grew older, he clearly began to realize that it was his relationships rather than his records that would allow him to continue to change the game well after his playing days were through. Kobe still had so much more to give, and Gigi still had her entire life to turn his gifts into her own.

In memory of all those who were lost in the accident: Kobe and Gianna Bryant; John and Keri Altobelli, and their daughter Alyssa; Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan.

Our many condolences to their friends and families.  

Sofia Huerta signs contract extension with Seattle through 2027

(Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

Former Oregon soccer players detail instances of verbal abuse from former USWNT assistant

(Chris Pietsch/The Register-Guard via Imagn Content Services)

Members of the Oregon women’s soccer team are saying they received harsh treatment and even verbal abuse from head coach and former USWNT assistant Graeme Abel. 

During the 2023 season, the team had zero wins, and upon its conclusion a total of 12 of the team’s 29 players departed the team. Former players told The Oregonian that Abel would verbally attack them, threaten to kick them off the team and at times would even throw objects.

"When I’d make a mistake at practice, it felt like he made it a job to embarrass you to the point where you just wanted to walk off the field,” one player said. “He’d stop the practice – and I know it’s college soccer, it’s very competitive — but he’d stop practice and just keep going nonstop on this one thing."

In total, the Oregonian spoke with 14 former players – including 12 who agreed to be interviewed in depth. All said that they experienced verbal abuse. Six of the players were among those who transferred following the season. 

One instance of Abel’s tirades included him throwing a water bottle that narrowly missed players’ heads. 

“He kicked all of our staff out of the locker room, kicked a trash can, threw a white board, sat on the trash can and started screaming,” one player recounted. “He wanted us to tell him what we thought went wrong in the game. Me and another player spoke up, and he said, ‘You’re just (expletive) wrong.’ And that if we didn’t want to be in this program, we could all quit, and he’d sign our release paperwork tomorrow.”

While Abel was not made available for an interview, he did say in a statement that “at no point have I used threatening statements or financial repercussions as a part of coaching.”

Instances of emotional distress stemming from Abel’s alleged harsh treatment date back to 2021 – his first full year leading the team following an abbreviated 2020 campaign.

Other former players contacted by The Oregonian detailed positive overall experiences, and described his style as “normal coaching.”

Others, like USWNT players Becky Sauerbrunn and Lindsey Horan, did not respond to requests for comment, although Sauerbrunn wrote in 2019 that she had a “great relationship” with Abel. 

Still, multiple players interviewed had similar stories, with one saying that girls would be “crying in the locker room” after practice because of what he would tell players. Attempts to speak with the administration about his behavior, players say, was “discouraging.”

“His office is like the scariest place,” one player said. “You’d have to sit there while he’d belittle you and say all these nasty things, and gaslight you into believing you’re not good enough. ... Our team fell apart because of the environment he created. We were just trying to get through the day. There was no way we could focus on soccer.”

Multiple players said they experienced suicidal ideation while playing at Oregon. In part of his statement, Abel wrote that “at no time do we put our student-athletes in any danger.”

Abel is currently in his fifth and final year of his contract at Oregon.

Gotham FC unveil Championship rings ahead of banner reveal

Gotham FC players celebrate Lynn Williams' goal in the first half of the 2023 NWSL Championship. (Ray Acevedo/USA TODAY Sports)

Gotham FC has unveiled their 2023 NWSL championship rings — and safe to say, they deliver.

The reveal has led to a little bit of trash talk ahead of the team’s matchup with Kansas City this weekend, as both teams have NFL owners. While the Current are co-owned by Patrick and Brittany Mahomes, former Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a co-owner of Gotham. 

On Wednesday, Manning took to Sportscenter to give Mahomes a bit of a hard time.

“He may have one more Super Bowl ring than me, but he does not have a NWSL championship ring like I do,” Manning joked.

“Come Sunday night at Red Bull Arena, April 14th, we’re dropping the banner on Kansas City. We got the ring ceremony, the players get their rings and their championship afterwards. This is it, I’ve got something to talk a little trash to him about because I can’t do it about football anymore, I gotta find something else.”

The appearance came after Manning posted to social media, inviting Mahomes to “come see [the championship ring] up close this Sunday.”

Mahomes responded in kind, writing that “we’ll see y’all Sunday!”

Gotham takes on current league-leaders Kansas City on Sunday at 6pm ET. The game is available on NWSL+.

Oregon State hit by transfer portal again as Raegan Beers departs

ALBANY, NEW YORK - MARCH 31: Raegan Beers #15 of the Oregon State Beavers shoots a free throw during the first half against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Elite 8 round of the NCAA Women's Basketball Tournament at MVP Arena on March 31, 2024 in Albany, New York. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oregon State leading scorer and rebounder Raegan Beers announced on Thursday that she is entering the transfer portal. 

"Thank you for all of your endless love and support these past two years," she posted on social media. "I will never forget my time at OSU and I am thankful for the opportunity I had to meet and play with incredible people. My journey as a Beav was a special one and I am grateful for my teammates, coaches, fans, and friends who have changed my life throughout my time here."

A sophomore forward, Beers is a two-time All-Pac-12 selection who averaged 17.5 points per game last season while shooting 66.4 percent from the field. She also added 10.3 rebounds en route to earning third-team All-American honors from the AP. 

She’s the fourth Oregon State starter – and seventh player overall – to hit the portal this offseason. She joins Talia von Oelhoggen and Timea Gardiner in the transfer portal, as well as starting freshman Donovyn Hunter. 

Beers and Gardiner were both top-10 recruits in ESPN rankings coming out of high school. 

With the dissolution of the Pac-12, the program will join the WCC next season and no longer be a part of the Power 5.

Conference realignment is hitting the team hard, with coach Scott Rueck saying during the tournament that he knew it could seriously affect his team moving forward. 

"That's reality," Rueck said. "I can't control that, other than just keep doing what I'm doing. I think the opportunity within that for a leader provides a discipline that you'd better be on your A-game all the time. You'd better take care of people, and you'd better provide a great experience. That's the approach going forward and what happens, happens. We'll find a way."

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