One regular season MVP award, two Olympic gold medals, three consecutive championships, four All-Star MVP awards, five championships in total. In the last couple of days we’ve seen these numbers in the papers, heard them on the news bulletins. And others too, 18 consecutive All Star appearances, 20 years with the Lakers, 39,283 career points, 57,278 career minutes, 122 40-point games, 25 50-point games, six 60-point games, one 81-point game. Caught short by the suddenness of his death, journalists used the stats to underpin their first sketches of Kobe Bryant’s life, a shorthand to capture something of the magnitude of his achievements, and make them comprehensible to those of us who don’t follow basketball.
There are plenty of people who know them already, they’re as familiar to them as Don Bradman’s batting averages are to cricket fans or Usain Bolt’s world records are to athletics geeks. And there are people, like me, who are really only just beginning to appreciate them now. There are plenty of experts who can explain his legacy for us. I’m not one myself. Basketball is not my beat. What I’m left is the regret that I didn’t pay more attention. There ought to be a word for the remorse you feel reading the obituaries of someone whose work you suddenly wish you’d followed more closely.