Where do you start? That's what I asked myself as I sat down to write this column.
Kobe Bryant is dead. By now, all of you likely know that the 41-year-old future Hall-of-Famer passed in a helicopter crash outside of Los Angeles Sunday morning, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; her assistant basketball coach Christina Mauser; Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli; his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; Sarah and Payton Chester, a mother and daughter who lived in Orange County; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan.
I reference each of the victims, for they are no better or worse than Mr. Bryant. They all had people who loved them, who'll miss them and who are equally saddened by their loss. Also, because while Kobe was an NBA icon, this story is and has become — in the 24 hours since — more about humanity than sport.
I was playing golf when I heard the news, and was surprisingly moved by it all. Sadness is to be expected. After all, it'd take a pretty cold fish not to appreciate the enormity of a loss for anyone so closely tied to a loved one's death. But while appreciative of his talent, I was never a fan of Kobe the basketball player, which made me different from the millions who so openly emoted upon news of his sudden passing.
Over the past two decades, he was the Lakers. While there have been many greats to have donned the purple and gold, including Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, to name a handful, it was Kobe that stole the hearts of a generation of Laker fans over the recently retired player's 20-year NBA career. On the court, he was a tireless worker, fierce competitor and typically at his best when it mattered most. Yet, as a Blazer fan I hated him — and that's how he wanted it.
Kobe wanted to win above everything else, and would do anything to make that happen. If I, you or anyone else despised him as a result, then that just meant he was doing his job, which in turn validated his effort.
But while undoubtedly great on the court, it was who we were coming to know off of it that had me lamenting his untimely demise.
A dedicated father, a writer, fan of basketball and willing contributor to the game that had given him so much.
Sure, he had made mistakes. Marital infidelities early in his career were front and center when he was accused of sexual assault following an incident in Colorado; he later admitted to a consensual encounter with the alleged victim and prosecutors ultimately dropped the case. He also was frequently criticized — and in some cases rightfully so — for being a less-than-ideal teammate, and his often cantankerous personality was legendary from firsthand accounts. But while flawed, like the rest of us, recent history spoke to a man who'd lived for basketball, finding his true love in his life beyond it.
He smiled more, and seemed genuinely happy in the wake of the career that had consumed him. And by accounts from those who knew him best, Kobe was the happiest they'd ever seen him. That's what saddens me: not what we as sports fans have been deprived of, but what the people closest to him won't get to experience over what should've been the second half of a life he was so excited to live.
His wife, Vanessa, no longer has her husband. His surviving kids, Natalia Diamante, 17, Bianka Bella, 3, and Capri Kobe, 7 months, no longer have their father. And while I appreciate the sorrow of fans of the player, sorry, it's his wife and remaining kids for whom my heart truly breaks.
Sadly, situations such as these happen far too frequently. People die tragically every day. Kids lose parents and parents lose kids, but while not any more tragic, it hits closer to home when it happens to someone you know. Most didn't know Bryant personally, but they felt like they did as the result of the memories he provided them. Fortunately, his fans still have those memories to lean on, but unfortunately his kids and wife no longer have their dad and husband — and that's the saddest thing of all.
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