NBA legend Kobe Bryant, and one of his daughters Gianna, were among the nine people killed yesterday (Sunday) in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Career Los Angeles Lakers shooting-guard Kobe Bryant was 41, and his daughter Gianna Bryant was 13.
The cause of the crash is still being investigated as of this publication, but conditions were said to have been very foggy. Usually it’s “pilot error” in these such instances. Time will tell.
This is as tragic as it gets if you are any kind of sports fan. Kobe Bryant was a global icon, and the universal mood among sports fans is still shock & sadness. This is one of those stories a sportswriter doesn’t want to have to do, but is obliged to. It is with a heavy heart I write these most serious words. That’s how Kobe Bryant would have wanted it, I say.
It’s very difficult to refer to someone younger, whom you admire for their greatness, in the past tense. This isn’t supposed to happen. This is one of those where-were-you-when-you-heard-the-news moments in popular cultural history.
The closest thing in sports that I can recall, was when Dale Earnhardt was killed on impact after hitting the wall at the end of the Daytona 500 on February 18, 2001. I heard my central Florida neighbor scream that day. Fans are first in denial, then overcome with sadness. That’s what it was like for weeks & months after, back then.
Yesterday, I tuned in for the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl just after 3:00. The game was being played locally in Orlando, and it was a beautiful day, so I was going to catch a bit then go out for a walk. But, ABC had already cut to this breaking news story. I screamed, “No!”, the same as my neighbor did almost 19 years ago. Then fell into numbness as I listened to the reports & watched the video footage. That’s acceptance, and it really sucks, because you feel sick to your soul.
People proverbially say it’s funny how things change when you die, only there’s nothing funny about these deaths. But things do change, that’s for sure. Whatever beefs or disagreements you had with Kobe Bryant disappear, because you know the loss of his life means more than any feud. We should remember this more in life.
The media perception has always been that Kobe Bryant’s greatest nemesis was his teammate Shaquille O’Neal. They feuded through the media up to the end:
Top NBA centers ever: 1) Wilt Chamberlain 2) Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, 3) Bill Russell, 4) Tim Duncan, 5) Hakeem Olajuwon, 6) Shaquille O’Neal, 7) Moses Malone, 8) Patrick Ewing, 9) David Robinson, 10) Robert Parish. Bigs are what wins in hoops, so this is what matters most in the NBA. That’s the final score on the court.
But now, none of that pettiness matters. The fact is: Shaq & Kobe couldn’t have won those three titles without each other, and that made both their Hall-of Fame careers.
Here’s Shaquille O’Neal yesterday in his own words on Instagram:
“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through now with this tragic and sad moment of loosing my niece Gigi & my friend, my brother, my partner in winning championships, my dude and my homie,” O’Neal wrote on Instagram of his former teammate. “I love you and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW !”
“Kobe was so much more than an athlete, he was a family man. That was what we had most in common. I would hug his children like they were my own and he would embrace my kids like they were his. His baby girl Gigi was born on the same day as my youngest daughter Me’Arah.”
The records are all there, and Kobe Bryant’s greatness was undeniable from the start. His work ethic & competitiveness were legendary. All time greatest #2 guard? You want Michael Jordan. I got Kobe Bryant. That’s a push. It feels like all of us on the side of true greatness just lost one. That’s why it hurts so much.