Photo via the New Yorker
I was walking into my favorite restaurant with my family when I found out that Kobe died. It was early afternoon and I stopped in the middle of the crosswalk reading and reading the sentence over and over looking for a different conclusion. I scoured the internet looking for corroborating sources. I was sure ESPN had made a mistake.
Then the texts started flooding in.
I tried to explain to my dad and brother what had happened but they didn’t believe me either. This had to have been a mistake. Kobe is Kobe. He can’t be gone.
But then, standing at the bar while waiting to be seated the news interrupted their Pro Bowl coverage and showed the footage. They showed the live footage of the mountainside burning where the helicopter went down. I was shocked. This could not be…
In a panic, I kept telling everyone around me to be quiet. I made the bartenders and all the servers to look. The people in our section began to notice the commotion and watched the tv’s. Finally, the whole bottom floor of the restaurant quieted as I pleaded with everyone to take me seriously. Everyone needed to look. I was so upset and so shocked and so hurt. Everyone needed to look. Kobe Bryant, dad of four girls, husband to Vanessa, basketball star of the world, was gone.
Ironically, I was not initially a huge fan of Kobe. As a little girl who grew up in the shadow of the Sears Tower and on the shores of Lake Michigan, Michael Jordan has my heart. To me Kobe was just a souped-up knock off. He had flashier basketball shoes and commercials. He appeared in some of my favorite tv shows and you could tell he thought he was all that. Idk, maybe it was the foggy clouds rolling in off The Lake that clouded my judgement but to me MJ was a hard worker who didn’t suffer fools and who elevated others. To me he took basketball seriously. It was a job. I didn’t like that Kobe was running up and down the court smiling. To me he wanted to be like Jordan: stealing his moves and his swagger but having too much fun. Arrogant while using someone else’s blueprint. It was upsetting.
But in his later years, and especially as his time on the court came to an end, I began to really respect him, his game, and what he did for the game of basketball. I realized that his game was an homage to Jordan. It was a sort of thank you and a building on the foundations that MJ had left. The respect continued to grow after he retired and went home to spend time with his girls. Then I begin to see the videos of his daughter playing.
I started playing basketball when I was five but I have been in sports since I can remember. Athletics has always been a point of pride for me, as I made the varsity team in all three sports that I played in high school and even got recruited to play in college. My dad and the other dads that I knew were encouraging and the guys that I went to school with were cool about it too. So, it wasn’t until after high school when I really realized how much the rest of the world didn’t value women’s sport.
It was bizarre to me to see all the jokes and read all the comments. I wondered why people felt that way and how they were coming to the conclusions that they were. Especially because all the women that I knew that played sports worked as hard or harder than their male counterparts. I hated it. So, watching Gigi play in those few short clips made me excited because I knew that with her skill and the dad that she had women’s sport might actually be able to get it’s shine.
And then Kobe wore the sweatshirt and everything got real. He started working with the WNBA players on ways to expand the league. He was even mentoring young women in basketball all the way up to the collegiate level. Then during an interview with CNN he said the line that silenced a world of critics, “I think there are a couple of players who could play in the NBA right now, honestly”. As a girl who constantly is asked to explain herself on dating apps when she says she likes sports I was elated. I looked around and realized that his candor and leadership was getting everyone, even other NBA players interested in the female side of a sport that I loved dearly and for that I was grateful. I knew that with him and Gigi leading the charge things would change forever.
When I think about that day, which I honestly can’t often. I think about Kobe and Gigi and my heart is heavy. Both of them had so much left to do in the world and I can’t believe they are gone. I had grown to love their family over the years and I hate that Vanessa and her daughters are missing such a huge part of their family. I know that if I lost my parents or my siblings I would not even begin to know how to go on. I also think about the families of the other passengers on that helicopter. I hurt for them and want them to know that the world is mourning with them too.
Death is so final. To me, it is only supposed to happen when people are done. When they have lived their whole, full lives, and they hang it all up and sit on down. To me, Kobe was just getting started. All those people on that helicopter were. It is not fair that they are gone and I wish that they could come back and we could all pretend that this didn’t happen. So I write this in memorial to you and your daughter and your friends, Kobe. You didn’t deserve that. None of you did and I want to thank you for what you have done for the world and for the sport. You transitioned us from an era of old school, rough and tumble basketball to one that embraces fun, hard work, and bravado. You extended MJ’s legacy by honoring him with your play and inspiring a generation of players and fans. But it was your off the court support of the women’s side of the game that really touched me and helped shape the future. Thank you for being you.