There is No Headline Capable of Touching on How Shocking the Tragic Passing of Kobe Bryant and His Daughter is to the World of Sports
Numb, but in a way that makes you keenly aware that the nothingness felt is actually just your body’s instinctual reaction to your brain’s inability to process information that previously seemed implausible. Empty, but in a way that makes you keenly aware that you’re actually full of far too many feelings for just one to take precedence.
I am bound to eventually start rambling uncontrollably in trying to simultaneously collect and convey about a thousand different thoughts, but that’s the best way I can describe how I felt upon hearing the (heart)breaking news that I’m still left re-reading and re-re-reading in disbelief while desperately trying to make sense of a loss of life that, like so many others, doesn’t make any sense at all. I never dreamed of seeing myself damn near stunned to the point of sedation by the premature death of a public figure, much less one I merely took turns loving and loathing from afar. However, the realization that my opinion of Kobe Bryant was never just neutral speaks to how peerless he was in evoking - or more accurately, provoking - overly emotional reactions and responses out of anyone even casually invested in or against his tumultuous and tireless efforts.
Fact is, to almost everyone that has ever bounced a single Spalding, either before him or because of him, the sudden death of Kobe Bryant is not at all like others, as there are so few others who could truly lay claim to an aura of invincibility. I think Taj Gibson put it best when speaking of a Knicks’ locker room that was shocked somber. It feels as though all of sports, never mind anyone that had even a semblance of interest in them, lost a superhero yesterday. A flawed superhero that had trials and tribulations that were largely of his own making and earned all of his detractors in being a better reflection of the innately imperfect human condition than Superman, but a superhero nonetheless...
Immortal, as only the type of different breed and beast that could look up and down the entirely overwhelming physical force that was Shaq and know full-well he could win without him can be. Immortal, as only a predatory performer who not only got away with giving himself a nickname due to the unabashed accuracy of it, but also got away with crafting the universally understood and accepted 'Mamba Mentality' around said nickname can be. Immortal, as only a competitor who willed himself to the foul line to knock down two shots before walking himself off the court with a torn achilles in tow can be. Immortal, as only a showman who capped off an illustrious rollercoaster of a story-arch that included a fistful of championships by signing off for good with a signature 60-point performance can be. Immortal, as only someone who accomplished enough on the court to have two different numbers raised to the rafters above it in his honor can be. Immortal, as only a professional athlete who commanded the respect and appreciation of every last one of his peers despite trying to shatter their spirit every time he faced off against them can be.
Everything Kobe Bean Bryant did, and how confident/cocky/arrogant he was in doing it, sure made it seem like a guarantee that all he had to do to outlive us all was want it badly enough or scare the reaper into submission with his patented soul-searing stare and snarl. Yet, with him seemingly wanting nothing more than to continue transforming into so much more than an athlete by nurturing the multi-faceted growth of both his immediate family and his outrageously extended basketball family, we’re left pondering the potential of a man who proved, time and time again, he’d stop at absolute nothing to surpass it.
The Jordan of the next generation. Oddly enough, as psychotically centered on maximizing his own greatness as he was, referencing Kobe as he compares to the legend whose footsteps he, near literally, tried to follow while emulating every move and mannerism might be the ultimate compliment. His resume isn’t as flawless and his reputation as a person was hardly as irreproachable as that of his predecessor, largely due to playing through the era of easily accessible information. Regardless, Kobe Bryant gave late 80’s babies and beyond their own mirror image of a larger-than-life, endlessly talented, insatiable and fearless freak athlete of a performance artist whose win-at-all-costs attitude and hunger for more championships drove him straight past bordering on maniacal.
This tragedy is quite obviously bigger than basketball. There are multiple families in a state of mourning that would even be mentally crippling to the type of cutthroat, cold-blooded lunatic that is immune to the inherently human act of flinching. However, the immeasurable amount that Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi still had left to give to the world through sport was ever-present in every tear dropped in or around the NBA’s social circle yesterday.
A mentor who did what so few retirees do in wholeheartedly embracing and encouraging those responsible for taking the reins and helping evolve the game to which he dedicated his entire existence. A 13-year-old mentee who, based on shared love and lineage alone, it somehow wasn’t entirely unreasonable to foresee taking women’s basketball to heights previously un-peaked. The world, whose global interest in seeing a ball go through a hoop is steadily increasing by the day, lost both an international icon and a next-of-kin that was already speaking freely about carrying on a wildly intimidating legacy of wild intimidation...
Again, what’s most devastatingly heart-wrenching is the unexpected and irreversible wreckage of the multiple families that had members aboard that helicopter. Still, what makes this particular tragedy, that you sadly wouldn’t think twice of had you not recognized the one unmistakable name taken by it, so profoundly painful to so, so many is how promising and impactful the very public lives of the victims we "knew" seemed downright destined to be.
I wouldn’t have imagined saying this yesterday morning, mostly because I wouldn’t have imagined anything short of the planet imploding taking the Mamba out before the age of 100-and-something, but his passing is one that I’ll never forgot where I was or what I was doing when I learned of it. The unforgettably clutch moments. The memories of flat-out emasculation through offensive genius and defensive doggedness. The mind-blowing milestones. Hell, even the eternally recyclable memes will continue to serve as a reminders of Kobe Bryant's lasting and unapologetic imprint on the cultural landscape of society, never mind the blueprint of basketball. For better or worse, he was that transcendent in the same way that a Prince or Michael Jackson might be to an older demographic, but with the added caveat that his whole image seemed defiantly and determinedly indestructible to those that grew up shouting the only name he ever needed while throwing literally anything in a trash can from a distance.
Death obviously comes for us all. If there were a competitive person or protective father that could simply fight it off by putting his mind to it then it would have been Kobe Bryant, so him being rendered helpless as he and his daughter presumably passed away in each others arms is undeniable proof of the harshest of human truths to accept. No matter what kind of life we're living, we can only control so much in regards to our own fate.
I’d imagine that aspect of this horrific accident plays a significant part in how sharply this stings. Perhaps, even as significant a part as Kobe Bryant would have continued playing - through the guidance and development of Gianna and her teammates, the tutorship of already incredible NBA players that still revered him, and the countless other Oscar Award-worthy projects he undoubtedly had in the works - in trying to better the sport for which he served as a pillar of polarization for two straight decades.