After retired basketball star Kobe Bryant died, I felt a bit like a cultural anthropologist. Beyond the tragic loss of life, I was interested in how others reacted to his passing.
I wrote about Kobe Bryant less often than I did the Kobe, Japan earthquake. Once was a passing reference to him which was mostly about his coach Phil Jackson. For whatever reason, I lost interest in NBA basketball this century. And I was pretty enthusiastic back in the days of Magic Johnson’s Lakers versus Larry Bird’s Celtics.
One thing about me is that I tend to absorb overwhelming grief. It was not so much my own but my sense of the collective shock of his many fans and colleagues. Even if it wasn’t my specific pain, I can remember how I felt when John Lennon and Rod Serling passed.
For instance, Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times wrote: “I’m screaming right now, cursing into the sky, crying into my keyboard, and I don’t care who knows it.” It was hardly the only anguish I saw.
Many pieces noted that Life Is Not Promised. In fact, Kobe himself said the same thing in Newsweek shortly after 9/11/2001. “We Never Know When Our Time Here Will Be Over.”
Sports Illustrated started their story with variation on that angle. “Thirteen-year-old Gianna Bryant and her father are gone, and that is not quite how the Bryants’ story will be told, but it’s how we should think about it first.”
The news cycle
Naturally, there were discussions about how only Kobe and, eventually, then his daughter, were mentioned when there were seven others on board, including two other basketball-playing teens. Part of it is that it was only known initially that Kobe and “some others” were riding.
In fact, there was a depressing reason. Reportedly, Kobe’s wife Vanessa “learned about the death of her husband and daughter at the same time as the rest of the world. Before police notified her of her family’s tragic loss, the news was leaked by TMZ – a tabloid news channel.”
The story was noteworthy at a certain level because nine people were killed. Its prominence days later is tied to fame. TV writer Ken Levine (MASH, Cheers) noted what would have happened if he had died with a famous baseball player. “if we had crashed there would have been news bulletins breaking into every network, huge front page headlines the next day and they all would say, ‘Baseball star, Tony Gwynn and a passenger were killed in a auto accident.'”
For his part, Gywnn, who died of cancer in 2014, “felt it was wrong that one person should be valued over another just because they’re famous.” But as Levine opined, “You can’t change the way the world operates.”
Early on, some people complained that “no one” was talking about the 2003 rape accusation against Kobe and subsequent settlement. Yes, it wasn’t the lead immediately after the horrific accident. But by day two of the story, I heard it mentioned regularly, in passing to be sure.
For my part, I was totally unaware of his Mamba Sports Academy, founded in 2018. The page quotes Kobe Bryant in noting, “Mamba Mentality isn’t about seeking a result. It’s about the journey and the approach. It’s a way of life.”
I did see his Oscar-winning short film Dear Basketball, about achieving his dream and then needing to walk away.
No less authority than Magic Johnson considered Kobe Bryant the greatest Laker ever. I’d say he was up there with George Mikan, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic himself. If my sense of personal loss isn’t as great as others, I still recognize the magnitude of his passing.
Because the helicopter was not equipped with a terrain warning system that could have alerted pilot to the hillside where he crashed, expect that the technology will be mandated more often.
So rest in peace, basketball coach Christina Mauser, who leaves behind a husband and three children; Alyssa Altobelli and her parents, John and Keri; Payton Chester and her mom, Sarah; and pilot Ara Zobayan.
And rest in peace, Gianna Bryant and her dad, Kobe. He was a “girl dad”, and that IS something I can relate to.