I’ve been prepping a post about trade possibilities for Kevin Love as the trade deadline approaches… forgive me. I don’t feel like writing it anymore right now.
Kobe Bryant is dead today at age 41. He and his 13 year old daughter Gianna were in a helicopter crash this morning. Tragically, Gianna has passed away as well.
I feel selfish for focusing on Kobe. Four other people including his own daughter passed away, but Bryant will get all the press and all the publicity. Maybe that is better. Others can grieve in peace. Maybe its worse. What about recognition? We as a people only care about tragedy when it happens to us or to someone with a high profile. I’m guilty of it as well. I know I am. That’s why I feel the way I feel now. Just stunned. Absolutely, positively stunned. My reaction from the moment I got the notification on my phone has just been “Wait, what?!”.
I was never even that big of a Kobe fan. I’m from Cleveland. To this day, with the exception of four years we as a city would rather forget about, this is LeBron’s town. Even today. Its strangely bizarre then that last night LeBron passed Kobe in all-time scoring for 3rd on the list. What a strange set of circumstances. Bryant’s own last tweet is a show of class at being usurped by James.
Regardless of all that, this death matters to me, and I know it matters to so many more. I might not always have preferred Kobe’s style of play; I’d make jokes about his reluctance to pass and how his overly serious nature helped cause the rift between himself and more jovial former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, but I always recognized Kobe as an undeniable force.
A fierce scorer who would use a deft combination of skill and will to get buckets on one end and smother his opponents on the other. He grew into a leadership role as his career progressed. His second set of Finals runs with the Phil Jackson led Lakers showed an older, wiser Bryant still at the top of his game, but more capable to reach his teammates and work inside a framework to make everyone exceptional. He became a well oiled winning machine, willing to raise his teammates and himself in favor of greatness on the floor. He became the undisputed 2nd best shooting guard in the history of the game. He became an invincible force of basketball nature, even sinking 2 free throws before retreating to the locker room after tearing his Achilles in 2013. He became the Black Mamba.
And I think that, for those of us fortunate enough to have been able to follow Bryant’s career, that is why this hurts and why it is so shocking. Every previous memory we have of Bryant is of him willing his Lakers squads to 5 rings, slashing through every last Toronto Raptors on his way to 81 points or even those aforementioned one-legged free throws. We never consider these athletes that we cheer or boo just as fragile as the rest of us, especially when they hit the type of peaks that Kobe hit. It is absolutely devastating when we end up getting reminded that despite all those feats they are exactly what we are: human. It hurts.
Now for a disclaimer: I don’t want this next part to be taken wrongly. Family and friends are important- one of the most important things this world has to offer, period. What I am about to say is in no way a replacement for that, if anything it should re-affirm it.
For someone who has been an avid American sports fan for as long as I can remember, these teams and these individuals become a part of our lives. I can turn the television six days a week in the summer and watch the Cleveland Indians play baseball. Often times I do exactly that. These athletes become part of our routine. We watch their professional lives progress sometimes from their dismissal from college until their middle age. They become part of our lives. For better or for worse, they create a connection with us through a common interest. They just happen to be the ones blessed enough to perform it on a daily basis. Bryant may have been a villain to me more often than not, but he was a respected one for all the reasons I have mentioned. Having “lived with him” for the last 20+ years is what makes this so harrowing.
He can’t be dead. He’s too wily and tough to be dead. He terrorized the Western Conference for twenty years and was a perfect foil to the natural passer and less hardened exterior of LeBron. How could it possibly be?
But it is. Rest well, Mamba. That fall-away mid range shot of yours is going to give them all fits in heaven. You and your daughter can continue to share your passion forever. I hope your family finds peace, as well as all the other families involved.
For the rest of us: remember that we are all fragile. Even the ones of us we see day in and day out. Even the ones we could never even imagine not being strong.
Be kind to one another.