It was the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, and Alex Kolosow II was just rolling out of bed when he heard the news: a helicopter had crashed and it was suspected Kobe Bryant was inside.
Kolosow scrambled to try and get confirmation if the horrible news was true and his idol was dead. He logged into ESPN.com. The realization was starting to set in.
“You hear rumors that he was bringing his daughter to a basketball tournament and you’re like, ‘Oh, God. Please don’t let the daughter be in the helicopter,’” Kolosow said. “The news, it just keeps getting worse. It was just so sad.”
When Bryant passed away that Sunday along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, the former Los Angeles Lakers star left behind so many family, friends and adoring fans. One of the greatest basketball players of all time, the 41-year-old certainly left his mark on the game and the world.
“It was shocking,” said Kolosow, who called it a surreal day. “I don’t think I’m overblowing this where it felt like I almost lost a family member. You grow up with the guy – we’re practically the same age, give or take a couple years. To see him grow up as a 17-year-old kid with the Lakers, play 20 years, retire, have his own girls that he loved, you saw him courtside a few days before. They had just announced that he was in the Hall of Fame and he was just in the news, and then the next day, he’s dead.”
Alex II and his dad, Alex, Sr., were captivated by Bryant for two decades. The father-son duo, who both reside in Huntington Beach, Calif., loved everything about Bryant.
“John Kennedy being assassinated, Elvis Presley overdosing, John Lennon getting shot, Walt Disney dying at an old age, but that’s about as shocking as you can get. And you can put Kobe in that fivesome,” said 71-year-old Alex, Sr. “But I’m also an old rocker, so people like Joplin, Hendrix, Morrison – these all meant a lot to me, but Kobe is an athlete. He went way too young.”
Bryant, acquired from the Charlotte Hornets in a draft day trade in 1996, made his way out to Hollywood from Philadelphia as a teenager. It didn’t take him long to capture the hearts of fans all over, especially the Kolosows. Both trading cards and memorabilia collectors, the Kolosows jumped on the Bryant bandwagon immediately and picked up cards and other keepsakes.
“There’s plenty to collect,” Alex II said. “I think that I’ve been told there’s about 2,400 total different Kobe cards in circulation.”
After almost a quarter century of buying Bryant items, the Kolosows have amassed quite a collection. They have two 660-count books full of single cards along with another 200 swatch relic cards. About 40 of those cards are slabbed by PSA in either grades of 10 or 9. They figure they have well over 2,000 Bryant cards. They also have more than 20 bobbleheads, 300 magazines in which Bryant graced the cover and other memorabilia.
“Growing up, I could relate to him,” said Alex II, 45. “He’s about the same age. He’s on my favorite team. He was easy to collect, because he showed it on the court. He was just a champion. There was a lot of love in L.A. for him…He’s truly like our own brother and son.”
Alex II attended Marina High School in Huntington Beach, as did Bryant’s widow, Vanessa. Alex II is older than Vanessa Bryant, so the two never crossed paths. But that has always been a bond the youngest Kolosow has felt with Bryant.
“We really got a taste of Kobe in those years when he came to the high school and we knew he was going to go places,” Alex Sr. said.
As a salesman, Alex Sr. was on the road quite a bit. In 1996, when he traveled outside California, he would seek out Bryant rookie cards. The elder Kolosow has about 3 million cards in all – so he knows the hobby well and took advantage of his experience.
“Even though you bought packs for a nickel back then in my era, I paid $3 or $4 or $5,” Alex Sr. said. “But you always pulled a Kobe or you pulled a star card, and basketball and baseball were real popular cards to buy. There’s over 20 companies that represented Kobe in the card world, and it wasn’t just the standard Fleer, Topps, Leaf.”
In Bryant’s rookie season, his cards could be had at an affordable price; the Kolosows cleaned up.
Back in California, Alex II was a couple years removed from high school when Bryant was a rookie. He was also collecting the young player’s cards, jerseys, magazines and shoes.
“He was really my first fan favorite,” Alex II said. “I love the Lakers. I love the Dodgers. But he was like that first player that I really looked up to.”
Once Alex Sr. got into collecting Bryant, he learned about his childhood growing up in Italy where his dad, Joe, played. Papa Bryant also played eight seasons in the NBA. Alex Sr. found several cards of Joe Bryant from the 1970s and ’80s in his collection.
The Kolosows have cards of Bryant that range from when he played at Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia to current day. The special, more rare cards are their favorites.
“I’m a sucker for relic cards and rookie cards, so for 1996 I like anything that shows him holding a jersey or on draft day,” Alex II said. “I remember him getting traded to the Lakers and I remember that day so specifically. Then to see cards of that when they had him in a Hornets hat for a brief moment, then he’s in a Lakers jersey. Anything from that ’96 year, I have a lot of memories from.”
Alex Sr. really enjoys the dual cards that feature Bryant and former teammates such as Shaquille O’Neal.
“His relic cards are just invaluable,” Alex Sr. said. “You could just picture the court he played on or the jersey that he wore or the shoe that he wore or the backboard he shot baskets at. Even cutouts of nets are unbelievable to look at.”
The most cherished and valuable card the Kolosows own is a Bryant autograph. The Kolosows were at a Lakers-Mavericks game and they caught Bryant before heading to the locker room. They handed Bryant a 2001-02 Topps Ten Points Per Game card that he signed.
“Not only do we have the ticket stub, but the card with autograph,” Alex Sr. said. “Nobody will ever get another Kobe autograph.”
Even though they have a lot of Bryant items, there is always a wish list. Alex II would really like an autographed Bryant rookie card, but that might be out of their price range. His dad would love a game-used Kobe ball to put up in his office.
With such a large collection, the Kolosows share all their Bryant items.
“My house is probably a little more decorated to Laker gear,” Alex II said. “My dad’s a little more nostalgic with baseball, the Dodgers. I’ve got a lot of his jerseys on display at my house. My dad’s got a few pictures on his wall here in his room. But with the amount of cards we have, we do keep some in albums to look through.”
Following Bryant’s death – similar to the when other athletes pass away – anything with his name on it skyrocketed in value.
“Autographs immediately ceased on eBay,” Alex II said. “They stopped selling them. It took me a few weeks to purchase his 1996-97 Forum throwback jersey. They put a hold on selling autographs just because of how much the market would change. It just became a scarce commodity at that point.”
The Kolosows watched Bryant’s price jump, but that meant nothing to them and their collection.
“We’re collectors, not investors,” Alex Sr. said. “We collected Kobe because we like Kobe. We don’t even want to sell them; we hold on to them. We have doubles that we could trade, that we can sell. But there’s something precious about a memory, and if you’ve got the memorabilia, you live for that.”
With the one-year anniversary of Bryant’s death on Jan. 26, Alex II feels like it eases the pain of his idol’s passing by looking through his cards and memorabilia. His dad agrees.
“I can have a day where I can just talk about the man, the myth, and the energy that he brought basketball and to our lives,” Alex Sr. said.