The last two days for not only the basketball world but the entire sports world have been rough. On Sunday, the world was dealt a heavy blow as 41-year-old basketball legend Kobe Bryant, just a few years removed from his final game in which he put up 60 points, died in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
I sat here watching the NBA pregame on TNT on Tuesday night, listening to Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Dwyane Wade, Ernie Johnson, Reggie Miller, and Lakers legend Jerry West talk about Kobe and give their thoughts and memories of him.
The one thing Shaq said that stuck out the most to me was how basketball is the one sport that each generation of basketball players and the legends they grew up watching are all still here and that’s what makes it so hard for the NBA. Kobe met and played against his idol, Michael Jordan. Wade played against his idol: Bryant. And the list goes on and on. But for those who are finally on the brink of an NBA career who idolized the Lakers’ great sadly, they won’t get their chance.
That sediment rings true among fans as well in a way. The ’60s had Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson. The ’70s had Kareem Abdul-Jabar. The ’80s had Bird and Magic. The ’90s had Jordan. The 2000s had Kobe, and the 2010s had LeBron. Even if you weren’t a fan of their respective team, you knew them and had to respect their greatness.
The different ways the respect for Kobe has been shown the last couple days include NBA teams (as well as college teams) taking 24-second shot clock violations at the start of their games to honor Kobe and his No. 24.
Dallas Maverick owner Mark Cuban has announced the No. 24 will never be worn by a Mavericks player again.
Trey Young wore jersey No. 8 (Bryant’s original Jersey number) on Sunday night.
Millions of fans visited the outside of the Staples Center to show their respect by writing messages, lighting a candle, or just standing quietly. This does not happen often. It was seen in the days after 9/11, the days after the deaths of Michael Jackson, John Lennon and John F. Kennedy, and the days after the Challenger exploded.
The TNT show was shot inside Staples Center and the lead-in was a dark, empty stadium, with only both of Bryant’s retired jerseys (Nos. 8 and 24) illuminated. This was a little eerie but may be the ultimate sign of respect from the team and the arena he called home for 16 seasons.
The announcement came down from the NBA Hall of Fame that Bryant would be a member of the 2020 class without even counting the votes, as he would have been a lock anyway.
There’s one idea that has been floating around social media that I hope the NBA decides to do to remember and honor Kobe. At the upcoming All-Star Game in Chicago, Team LeBron should wear No. 24 while Team Giannis dons No. 8.
Athletes and famous people don’t ask to be role models (and many aren’t), but some exemplify and thrive in the role. Kobe Bryant was one of those who did. If nothing else, the outpouring of love and respect not just from athletes and famous people but also the everyday men women and children who never even met him proves that.
As a father with three school-aged children, I, like many parents, can relate to the task of getting them to and from their various sports and events, which is what Bryant was doing on Sunday morning. That just adds to the reason behind the outpouring, because it could have been a tragedy that happened to any one of us.