On Sunday, January 26, 2020, the world not only lost an NBA legend, but a cultural icon. Los Angeles Lakers phenom Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California that claimed nine lives in total, including Bryant’s daughter Gianna. The 18-time NBA All-Star and five-time champion was 41. Gianna, affectionately known as Gigi by friends and family, was only 13. She had dreams of playing college basketball at the University of Connecticut.
While Kobe Bryant’s death sent shockwaves throughout the NBA, his loss was also felt throughout the entire world, as he had a work ethic and renown that transcended the game of basketball. The NASCAR community was particularly affected by Kobe’s death, as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and a number of other current and former NASCAR drivers mourned Bryant’s loss on social media.
NASCAR Mourns Kobe Bryant
It’s clear why Kobe Bryant’s death had an extra sting on the NASCAR community, as it brings to mind the untimely death of seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., who was tragically killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. He was 49.
Though Bryant wasn’t necessarily known as being a hardcore NASCAR fan, he had spent time with several drivers over the years, including Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. Even a 24-year-old Ryan Blaney had the privilege of meeting with the Black Mamba.
Following the Team Penske driver’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway back in October 2018, he got to spend some time with Bryant in Las Vegas. It wouldn’t seem like the two would have much in common, but they actually both shared a BODYARMOR sponsorship. After chatting with Bryant for a bit, Blaney presented Kobe with his fire suit from the regular-season finale at Indianapolis.
In the grand scheme of things, it might not seem like that big of a deal. But, it just goes to show that Kobe Bryant’s impact expanded much further than the NBA.