Almost two weeks ago, the world learned about the tragic deaths of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles, California — where the shooting guard went from recent high school graduate to one of the greatest players in basketball history. Tributes poured in on social media from everyone — fans of other teams, teams from other sports, athletes and non-athletes alike. The Lakers-Clippers game was postponed, and the teams that did play came out in Kobe jerseys, running out the 24-second shot clock on the first posession while holding back tears.
How does a sports figure like Kobe (who needs only to go by one name) make an impact on so many people that when he passes away, it feels like the loss of a close friend or family member?
One reason is because they’re a part of our lives; we watch them grow up. This is especially true for someone like Kobe who played his first game at 18 and didn’t retire until he was almost 40. We watch them hold that trophy over their head knowing they’ve achieved one of their greatest dreams. We watch them clutch their knee in agony, rolling on the floor wondering if they will ever play again.
Depending on the sport, we can see them every single day, working as hard as they can to get to the top. We will spend high amounts on jerseys and tickets to feel as close to them as possible. And when we do, it can feel like an out of body experience — being close to someone that we consider more than human.
Sometimes as fans, we let them get away with too much. Even though he wasn’t convicted, Kobe is guilty of rape. Even though he settled with his victim and publicly apologized, he avoided a harsher punishment due to his status as an admired professional athlete. We can love our athletes, but we still need to hold them accountable. It’s worth noting, however, that Kobe also used his status to support after-school programs, start a foundation to help the homeless and raised his four daughters.
Perhaps a greater reason we feel so upset about a loss, especially one so sudden and tragic like Kobe’s, is because it shows us that these figures we look up to aren’t invincible. Our role models, our heroes — the Supermen and Wonder Women of real life — are just as human as you and me. We realize that the sport they played was only one aspect of their life. They have family and friends and coworkers and a whole life still to live. It’s easier to cope when an athlete passes away at an old age, but we didn’t get that closure with Kobe. It was only the day before that his legacy was being discussed as LeBron James surpassed him in all- time points. We never would’ve expected that to be his last day.
So how do we move on from something like this? We talk about our feelings, share our emotions and cry if we need to. We talk about his life instead of his death. We remember what he did on the court, but also off the court. We watch Laker games. We donate to the charities he supported. We donate to organizations that support rape victims. We respect his family through this difficult time. We know that Kobe wouldn’t want us to focus on him, but on the others who lost their lives that day. One family lost a dad, mom and sister on the same day — it’s important to focus and support them to prevent their deaths from being overlooked.
Most importantly, we tell those closest to us how much they mean to us. Never take a hug for granted or prolong a grudge. We sadly don’t know what happens next so we should leave on a good note. That’s the Mamba Mentality.