Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

NBA Monday’s Immortal Legacies: From Kobe Bryant to Jonah Lomu and Fernando Ricksen

Posted on 25 January 2021 by Lukas Flottmeyer

Co-Written with Jeremy Addley and Xander Chevallier

When three NBA games are played tomorrow, there will be a bitter aftertaste. 26 January 2021 will be one year after the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others.

It’s a one of a kind event, and every basketball fan remembers where they were. Sitting in a packed train next to the doors, I remember myself scrolling through Twitter when I read the first rumours about a horrible helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

While reading got harder due to wetting eyes, my friends and I exchanged messages with newest information on what happened – no one believed it was true. It had to be a confusion, a misconception, or at worst a tasteless joke.

When I arrived home, I turned my TV on immediately. The Portland Trail Blazers were about to play the Indiana Pacers in Portland, Oregon. A game, that did not matter at all that night.

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The commentators announced that all the rumours were true – Kobe Bryant was dead. The following days, (sport) personalities, politicians, and fans all over the world paid their tribute to one of the greatest basketball players to ever step foot on the hardwood.

This tragic anniversary makes us remember that life is fragile. No matter how talented you are, no matter how hard you worked for your success, no matter how big your heart is – life can vanish in a second. Today, we reminisce in memories.

In memories about an outstanding basketball player and father; in memories about a rugby icon who fought even harder off the pitch than he did on it; in memories about a man who’s warrior spirit was best demonstrated in his battles off the field rather than on it.

Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant had a winning personality. He was a mental beast, always focused on one thing: winning everything possible. Some people would say he was arrogant because he talked a lot; maybe even too much. Though, in the end, Bryant always delivered.

He won five championships and two NBA Finals MVP’s. Bryant was the NBA MVP in 2008, an 18-time All-Star and a 15-time All-NBA Team member. Additionally, he was voted to the All-Defensive Team 12 times, and won of two Olympic gold medals. These are just a handful of achievements from Bryant’s career.

Looking at Bryant’s stats and nearly endless list of awards shows that the Black Mamba will always be remembered as one of the all-time greats. When you talk about the best basketball players ever, Kobe Bryant will be mentioned in the discussion.

Though, Bryant wasn’t just a great player. He was an incredible leader on and off the floor. Like Michael Jordan, the Black Mamba wasn’t shy to give his wisdom to younger players. He shaped an NBA generation – again, just like His Airness. For my generation, Bryant is our Jordan.

He was physical, nearly impossible to guard and a workaholic. Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers spread pure love when they were on the floor. He was faster than everyone, he was stronger than everyone, he was smarter than everyone. Even when he was 37 years old, Bryant dropped 60 points in his last game ever.

Besides giving everything on the floor, Bryant was the passionate father of four daughters. He was a big supporter of the Women’s National Basketball Association and his daughter Gigi seemed to be one of the biggest talents in the world, before she died with her father way too early.

It seems that everything Bryant touched turned out to be great. He made a film out of a poem he wrote for the Players’ Tribune and won an Academy Award in 2018. He was the first former professional athlete to win an Oscar.

Of course, Bryant had big ideas for his future. In an interview with The Undefeated, he talked about his plans. If it wasn’t for a horrible accident, the world would have watched more Bryant stories; possibly winning more Academy Awards.

Nearly one year after his death, we can just cherish Kobe Bryant’s legacy. Sitting back, folding a paper ball, and shouting ‘Kobe’.

Jonah Lomu

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Jonah Lomu can be credited with having the biggest influence on how the game sport of rugby is played today.

At the 1995 World Cup he wasn’t just the standout player of the tournament, he dominated the tournament. Despite being only 20, he was 6”5, 110kg and could run 100m in 10.8 seconds! In the semi-final against England, Lomu scored four tries and literally ran over Mike Catt during one of them.

But behind the headlines and highlight reels, Lomu had an illness that he fought with throughout his career until the end of his life.

Months after he caused shockwaves during the 1995 World Cup, he was diagnosed with Nephrotic syndrome, an extremely serious kidney disorder. After a break for treatment he returned to action until May 2003 when it was announced he was put on dialysis three times per week.

Things got so bad that Lomu confessed at times he could “hardly walk” and doctors feared of permanent nerve damage. Thankfully in 2004 Lomu received a kidney transplant from radio kiwi radio presenter, Grant Kereama and was able to return to the sport.

Kidney specialist Dr Anthony Warrens described Lomu’s story as being “absolutely remarkable. Only recently he was being kept alive through dialysis, now he’s managed to attain the level of fitness required to start playing again.”

Due to all the medical complications that plagued Lomu’s career, it was estimated that he was never more than 80% fit. This led to two time world cup winning captain Richie McCaw to say “I just wonder how good he could have been, had he been 100% and not battling illness, it’s scary to think what he could have done.”

After an emotional return to pitch in 2005, Lomu kept playing until 2010 featuring for the Cardiff Blues and taking a well-earned paycheck from Marseille Vitrolles.

Sadly Lomu died suddenly in 2015 from a heart attack that was heavily linked to his kidney disease. There was a public funeral held at Eden Park Stadium, where the All Blacks still haven’t lost at since 1994.

Jonah Lomu stepped up to be superstar that rugby needed as the game turned professional in 95. He was the all court player with speed, power and a superb rugby IQ. Away from the pitch he was a gentle giant, who showed the courage to keep playing despite set back after set back. Lomu already wears the number 11 jersey in the heaven XV, and there is no way anyone else will ever take it off him.

Fernando Ricksen

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No one would’ve foreseen after being substituted 21 minutes into a 6-2 defeat to Glaswegian rivals Celtic, being sent off in the next Old Firm and then subsequently dropped for the next two clashes with ‘The Hoopes’. That Fernando Ricksen would go on to be inducted into the Rangers Hall of Fame and appear 12 times for the Dutch national side.

In the seven years the Dutchman spent at ‘The Gers’, he would make 182 appearances, scoring 13 goals and go on to win the SPFA player of the year award in the 2004-05 season in which he captained Rangers to a league and cup double.

In October 2013, Ricksen revealed he had been diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis better known as motor neurone disease. Known in his playing days for his grafting and warrior like spirit, he battled the disease until September 18th 2019, where he died in St Andrews Hospice in Airdrie.

The legacy of the Hoesnbroek native, was demonstrated before and after his passing. Former Celtic hero, John Hartson, described the Dutchman as “inspirational” and he [Ricksen] “epitomised what it meant to play for Rangers”. Few players who feature in the Old Firm are able to command the respect of the fans and players alike.

For players with the nature of Ricksen, this is even more of a rare occasion. For a rivalry that cuts deeper than any, it truly takes an extraordinary player and character to command the respect of the Celtic faithful. For a man, who for many epitomised what it meant to wear the blue shirt of Rangers.

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His legacy after his death brought together a fan base and community united that is usually deeply divided.