Kobe Bryant and Me
Kobe Bryant and Me
The night before Kobe Bryant and nine others died when the helicopter they were in crashed into a mountainside, I watched the sunset over Los Angeles from my Silver Lake balcony. The fog was already rolling in and I made note of it, “God, it’s getting crappy.” It had been warm for the past week, but I thought the next day would bring colder weather. When I got up that morning, I stuck to my routine: coffee on that same balcony. The fog was denser now; thicker. I couldn’t see the mountains.
On the previous Wednesday, I read that Kobe Bryant had said there are women who are currently in the WNBA who could play and contend with the men in the NBA. I screenshotted it. Then I went on a Kobe Bryant Instagram binge. I looked at Mamba Academy. I watched his daughter, Gianna, who perished with him, shoot a basketball while wearing high heels. That day, when I was supposed to buy a microwave for my apartment off Amazon; I ordered a basketball. Needless to say, I was inspired.
Four days later, the ball arrived. It was Sunday. I knew Lebron James had surpassed Kobe Bryant’s all-time record the night before and that while I was watching the sunset, Kobe was watching Lebron in Philadelphia. When my roommate texted me that Kobe Bryant had died; I didn’t believe her. I thought she was making a joke, implying Kobe was cancelled or over because Lebron had passed him up. At that time, TMZ was the only outlet reporting. I live about 40 minutes from Calabasas, where the helicopter went down. Kobe Bryant was right when he said, “[LA] is as big or as small as you make it.” That morning, it felt small.
There is a certain grief Alaskans know well. One that we nod our respects to when conditions tell us it’s not safe or it’s too icy or the ceiling is low. Too often we hear of the risk that came with a tragic consequence; the hiker who slipped, the boat that didn’t make it across the glacial lake, the fisherman lost to the unforgiving tide. More often than that, we doubt it will ever touch us… even if it has before.
When I read it was a helicopter, I thought of the fog. That’s all I could think of. The ceiling was low. The fog was thick. A risk with a tragic consequence. My heart fell to a place it had been before. Two summers ago, a dear friend of my family, a piece of my life, died when his plane slammed into the side of a mountain. We wouldn’t find out until two days later, when the Coast Guard found his plane with his lifeless body inside. There was disbelief then, as there is now.
I grew up playing basketball in my hometown of Anchorage, Alaska. It was a respite from the world and something I have never lost my love for. I found my heroes within the sport, Kobe Bryant being one of them. When I had the opportunity to watch him play in person, I did. My older brother and I found ourselves in Staples Center, Lakers t-shirts on our bodies rooting for the name we had grown up with. The Lakers were playing the Detroit Pistons that night. The next day, Kobe Bryant would announce his retirement.
I saw him again only once. It was my mom’s first NBA game. I took her to watch the Lakers play the Phoenix Suns. Kobe Bryant was in the crowd. That was January 27, 2019. A mere year later, tragedy would strike in the cruelest way.
When I was watching the videos of Gianna Bryant and delving into the world that is the Mamba Academy, I couldn’t fight the feelings of jealousy that coupled the inspiration. Why hadn’t programs like this been in place when I was growing up? Why hadn’t women been recognized at this level before? Those feelings were quickly replaced when I found myself thinking, “how do I help?”
There is no reason for such a devastating turn of events. I have parsed through my feelings to help myself understand the question we’re all begging the sky: why? Why did something like this happen? I’m afraid, as I’m sure many are, I don’t have the answer. These things happen. As if evil reached its hand up from nowhere and shook the world.
We have to move forward. There is no other choice. We can mull things over, mourn, cry into our pillows, but we have to move forward. Heroes die. Everyday people die. This is a reminder we did not need, but received, nonetheless. Hold fast to those you love, touch their faces and let them know.
“Los Angeles is as big or as small as you make it.” In the past week, it has felt small. There is a kindness that has swept over this sprawling city and while my heart hurts, I’m glad I’m here to witness this.
Kobe Bryant changed the world. It is up to my imagination now to see how his daughter, Gianna, and the others who perished on that helicopter were going to change the world. It is a responsibility that I fully take on to continue THEIR legacy, to continue the recognition and growth of women in sports, and to live my life in a way that is fulfilling so that others may see my light and recognize the light within themselves. That is how I help.
Thank you, Kobe. As my brother said when our dear friend passed two summers ago; we’ll take it from here.