Over the course of Kobe’s 20-year-long career, he remained consistently silent on political issues, in a way that by the time of his retirement seemed wildly anachronistic. Bryant’s apolitical attitude reflected the individual-focused, Jordan-era status quo in which he entered the league, but it eventually made him out of step with his younger counterparts, who have largely taken up the activist mantle of older icons like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson. Today’s NBA stars are eager not only to use their platform to amplify political and social causes, but to establish activism as a responsibility in its own right, as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and others did at the ESPY Awards in 2016. Even prominent head coaches like Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich—who are demographically more likely to be Trump supporters than liberal agitators—have earned reputations for speaking out against police shootings and the Trump administration in the bluntest terms…

Bryant’s refusal to acknowledge the political and social dimensions of his career appropriately echoed his hero and predecessor in Jordan. At the height of his stardom, Jordan apocryphally justified his own recusal from politics by saying that “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” But where Jordan saw his neutrality as an economic calculation, Kobe simply didn’t see the neutrality in the first place. Politics had nothing to do with his singular mission to destroy and demoralize his opponents, on or off the court. Therefore, they were unworthy of his public consideration.