Unlike most fans’ relationships with their favourite players, mine was formed through the revisiting and reliving of past historic greatness.
At 6:30am this morning, my (nearly) four-month old baby stirred in his cot. I got up to check on him, and though he immediately went back to sleep, I knew he’d probably be waking up soon.
As such, I thought going back to bed was futile, so I instead sat in the dark in his room waiting for the impending cute cry.
I checked my phone to see what the time was, and then – out of habit – had a peep at Twitter.
I predominately use the platform to follow sport, especially the NBA. So when I saw a number of people I follow for basketball reasons tweeting short, but cryptic, messages like “No. This can’t be real”, “Please be fake” and “Please God, no”, I knew something dramatic and sad had happened.
My immediate reaction was that a star player had suffered a season-ending injury. That’s generally what motivates such missives. Eventually another tweet came up mentioning Kobe Bryant. That’s when things got truly surreal.
TMZ reported that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash.
TMZ traditionally deal with salacious celebrity scandals. That’s not to say that what they report isn’t true, but any breaking news from that outlet comes with a healthy dose of scepticism.
And so there I found myself, in the dark, in my baby’s room, refreshing my Twitter feed every five seconds, waiting for someone to confirm this was a hoax. I was hoping for the update that this was a terrible fake-news story about someone’s death, that we’ve seen countless times before. It just didn’t seem like it could be real, so I didn’t believe it was.
Yet, like most basketball fans around the world, it was such big news, that I couldn’t just dismiss it out of hand.
Then came the confirmation. When Adrian Wojnarowski – the ESPN reporter renowned for breaking accurate news stories about the NBA – tweeted about Kobe’s death, the hearts of basketball fans around the globe were simultaneously broken.
The sad news went to another level when it was announced that Gianni Bryant, Kobe’s 13-year old daughter, was also on board the helicopter. All in all, nine people lost their lives.
Much will be said and written about Kobe this week. His achievements will be recapped, his legacy discussed, his all-time ranking among the other greats debated.
It won’t all be positive, as he was a polarising individual. Many didn’t like the way he played the game, and even more people despise the Lakers. Such is the passion that sport evokes.
Likewise, there is another chapter of his life that complicates how people will remember him, and that shouldn’t be ignored.
However, my mind and words go elsewhere. To two feelings on the complete opposite ends of the emotional spectrum: pain and joy.
Firstly, I think of his family, and the incredible pain they must be feeling. Kobe is survived by his wife Vanessa, and three more young daughters. I can’t fathom the emotion of having lost a husband and father, and a daughter and sister.
Just imagining what they’re going through is enough to induce tears.
At one stage this morning, I looked at my infant son as he slept, and thought about how different his life would be if it was me that had passed away. I immediately told myself not to dwell on such a horrible hypothetical, but it certainly helped frame the feelings of empathy I have for the Bryant family.
Secondly, I think about the joy Kobe brought millions and millions of people during his career. Literal joy. That’s a legacy no one can deny: he made people happy with his incredible performances on the basketball court, and those that love Kobe Bryant really love Kobe Bryant. It’s a long-running joke in NBA circles about the intense passion of ‘Kobe stans’.
As a lifetime Laker fan who bleeds the purple and gold, it was an incredibly shocking morning. For 20 years, Kobe entertained us. He won us championships. When you’re passionate about your sports teams, you become connected to the individuals that play for them.
When those individuals do it for two full decades and, along the way, also deliver the happiness only championships can bring, they become part of your life.
I feel like I grew up with Kobe. 20 years is a very long time, so there’s almost an intrinsic link I have with him. That’s what made this morning so shocking, so sad, and something I’ll never forget. It instantly became the NBA’s version of “Where were you when…?”
Thanks for the memories, Kobe. And there’s quite a few of them. It’s a good time to go down the internet rabbit hole and enjoy them for a couple of hours.