When the news came across my phone that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California Sunday afternoon, I felt my body immediately go numb.
But with LeBron James passing Bryant on the NBA’s all-time scoring list the night before, and with the way social media can be from time-to-time, I wasn’t sure it was true.
Unfortunately, it was.
And so I spent the rest of my night reading articles, listening to podcasts and watching on television as his friends, media members, former teammates, coaches and opponents tried their best to articulate the person he was.
I sat there, shaking my head in disbelief that this could’ve happened, but as I continued to watch, I realized my emotion had quickly changed from shock to sadness, as tears rolled down my face.
I wasn’t sure why, though.
Of course, it’s always heart-breaking when someone loses their life, especially when it’s unexpected.
I went to bed, still unsure why I was as sad as I was. And when I woke up Monday morning, I watched a video former Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee posted from his daily radio show that resonated with the way I was feeling.
McAfee said, “Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I cried real tears for the passing of a human that I’ve never met before. You know how people say, ‘I feel like I’m having a bad dream?’ I never knew what that meant. I’d experienced bad things before, but never once did I think, ‘this can’t be real.’ Kobe’s passing yesterday felt like it wasn’t real.”
But I still couldn’t figure it out.
I, like McAfee, had never met Bryant in person. And unlike many of my friends and schoolmates, I didn’t grow up idolizing him.
My favorite basketball players as a kid were Allen Iverson, Tracy McGrady and JJ Redick. I didn’t own a Kobe Bryant jersey.
Heck, the guy broke my little, Indiana Pacers-loving heart in the 2000 NBA Finals.
That didn’t matter on Sunday, though. No, the passing of an icon, a person that so many looked up to – that wasn’t supposed to die – was the only thing on my mind.
And maybe the emotions that came over me had to do with where he was in his life and where I am in mine.
He, a husband and a father of four. Me, a husband and a father-to-be in the spring.
Or maybe it was the fact we both loved the Philadelphia Eagles and had similar reactions when the Birds won Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots.
I didn’t know.
But as I drove back home on Monday, listening to the Ryen Russillo Podcast which was devoted to guests speaking on memories they had watching and covering Bryant, he said the following that captivated it all for me:
“How we all deal with loss is different. I’m never going to sit here and pretend like I had any personal connection to him. But I do think for those who are so sad about this, and for people that don’t understand their sadness, it’s like you’re missing the bigger point. Even though Kobe didn’t know you, you had invested so much time and so much emotion into Kobe – you knew it was a one-way street relationship. Of course, it was. It wouldn’t be realistic the guy would know any of you.”
And he’s right. Even though I wasn’t a Laker fan or a big-time follower of Bryant’s, I always admired his fire, his drive and the will to win – the Mamba mentality – that he possessed inside of him.
So, I, like many around the world, am saddened by the loss of one of the sport’s biggest ambassadors and will always remember his time here fondly.