Gone in an instant
Can you remember a celebrity death that has affected us more than Kobe Bryant’s?
Sunday’s sweeping news was everywhere. Bryant and eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, were killed in a helicopter crash.
Of course, it was emotional. Lost life, especially young life — like Bryant, who was just 41, never mind the young girls on board — is tragic.
Of course, it was all-consuming. Bryant was a five-time champion, an Academy Award winner and a face of a generation in the NBA.
Of course, it was about reflection, too. The images and our memories of him as a player felt as fresh as the day he won his first title, the day he won his third in a row, that time he walked with a torn Achilles to the foul line and made two free throws before walking to the locker room, the day he scored 81 points, when he scored 60 in his final game and so many more.
But this is not about basketball — not today and at least not in this space. Sure, there were a slew of basketball stories to share. Here’s TFP ace sports columnist Mark Wiedmer’s view on Kobe the hoop star. Here’s Stephen Hargis, the TFP ace Sports Editor, on Kobe’s impact on area basketball figures.
I found myself thinking several times Sunday about the avalanche of emotion the death of this basketball superstar had on almost everyone.
The tributes from those in the game of basketball were understandable. They ached in L.A., where he played his entire career. Even the tributes from other sports — the Pro Bowl, the Australian Open, Tiger Woods at Torrey Pines, European soccer among them — made sense because of Kobe’s reach and respect.
But we’ve lost stars before. We have mourned celebrities’ deaths.
This reached a lot of us on several different levels.
First, Kobe’s work ethic was legendary. Whether you had elite skills in your chosen endeavor — and there’s no doubt that Kobe’s skills were all-time elite — his competitiveness, his determination, and his overwhelming will to win were Jordanesque. And truth be told, that is relatable and commendable way more than putting a leather ball through an iron hoop.
Whether you ever played the game, shot a wadded-up piece of trash into a waste basket or didn’t know Kobe Bryant from Kobe Beef, we all know the sacrifice and effort and work it takes to be great. Kobe combined the gifts with the grit, and that demands respect.
Kobe, as much as any superstar in almost any genre, carried an air of humanity that so many of the one-named stars simply do not.
We can’t help but feel like we know the superstars we place on insanely misguided pedestals for vastly overvalued skills such as remembering lines, making 3s or throwing 95-mph baseballs.
But Kobe’s humanity and realness was more than almost all the other super-celebs. He grew up in front of our eyes, coming onto the scene as a teenager who spoke several languages and was dealt to L.A. for Vlade Divac. His very public shortcomings — from whatever happened that night in Colorado to his much-debated and much-less-serious feud with Shaq — were part of the narrative and set the stage for a comeback in terms of public approval.
And it was the humanity and the fragility of life that touched us deepest Sunday.
He was 41, for Pete’s sake, and he had adjusted to the role of living legend and husband and father and youth league sports coach in such a smooth and gliding way that you couldn’t help but be excited about his future, because it was going to be in some ways part of our future, too.
Death comes for us all. It’s the only certainty of this life.
What we do before it comes calling is our legacy.
In that regard, Kobe’s 41 years were every bit as legendary as his basketball career.
The end was sudden, but the very end is always sudden, whether it’s a crash or cancer. That suddenness brings sadness for all touched by the life lost.
Death makes me think of my father, who wisely told me that whatever it is “it’s not really a problem if money can solve it.”
Kobe’s death was the ultimate definition of that.
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Nick Richards. The next Kentucky basketball player to win the SEC player of the year award cemented his status with a classic performance in UK’s overtime win over Texas Tech on Saturday. He scored 25, hauled in 14 rebounds and had 4 blocks and was the best dude I saw on any floor anywhere playing college basketball this weekend.
Humanity. Need a pick-me-up this morning in the wake of Kobe Bryant sadness? Well, read this story about 8-year-old Naomi Short in Butler County, Ohio. She is battling a rare form of brain cancer and the local sheriff’s office answered her parents’ social media call for a white horse. The equine deputy became a unicorn, at least for a day, to make Naomi smile. I’m not crying; you’re crying.
Billie Eilish. Yes, I watch too many award shows. So be it. Well, Eilish, who sings songs that I’m not familiar with, won the big four — Record, Album, Song and Best New Artist of the Year — and became the first teenager to ever do it. That’s a big weekend.
Dan Mullen. Dude is rolling in Gainesville right now. Biggest concern for the Gators to continue on last year’s success? Replacing starting wideouts. Speedster Kadarious Toney coming back to school helped. Getting former five-star recruit Justin Shorter from Penn State from the transfer portal really helps, too. Florida preseason, top 5? War Mullen, JTC.
Alison Morris. Who, you are asking? Well, Alison was hosting the broadcast on MSNBC and, well, had the worst miscue an announcer can have. Alison said she combined the team names of Knicks and Lakers, and delivered “Nakers,” but friends, having watched the video, it sounds like a hard G in the middle much more than a hard K. Here’s the thread and the video is there, too.
This guy. Gang, if you are cheating on your significant other, well, I suggest you stop. But if you are going to continue, be very careful going to a sporting event and showing a little PDA, because you never know when you will get caught with your side piece on the Kiss Cam. And the fallout is pretty clear.
Watered-down coaches’ win list. OK, we know that when Eli Manning is a top-seven passer in terms of stats — ahead of guys like Montana or Johnny U or any number of other all-timers — that NFL passing stats are devalued. Well, how about the college hoops coaching list. Roy Williams passed Dean Smith, and yes ol’ Roy Boy has had a great career. (But he’s certainly no Dean Smith.) But the kicker here in terms of just huge quantity of games is West Virginia’s Bob Huggins matched Adolph Rupp for seventh all-time over the weekend. Yeah, No.
Aerosmith. Yes, Spy, we’ve covered that I watch too many award shows. Get over it. The Grammys took the stage last night and Aerosmith reunited with Run DMC for “Walk This Way.” Back in the day, it was trend-setting and ground-breaking and was part of the movement that brought rap to the main stream. Sunday night, it looked like a vaudeville (look it up kids) re-enactment from the Alexian Village talent show. (And to make matters worse, Steven Tyler pulled two girls from the audience on stage and tried to dance with them, and he looked every bit the creepy Great Uncle who embarrasses the pants of you among your high school friends by commenting on a girl’s chest.)
Fantasy sports cheaters. This story has been amazingly interesting, and one that likely needs more attention considering the growth of daily fantasy sports. This is a woman who was on “The Bachelor” who has been stripped of a $1 million win by Draft Kings.
This and that
— This is an interesting story, and one that we discussed a couple of years ago around here when Shohei Ohtani arrived with the Angels. This is Peter Gammons’ view that MLB clubs are searching for players who offer that versatility.
— Ronan Kopp could have been a weekend winner. The high school baseball star in Arizona hit two grand slams in one inning over the weekend. He actually came to the plate again in the inning with the baseball loaded and walked. He was one of two pitchers who combined on the no-hitter in a 30-0 win.
— There are a handful of moments in sports about which you remember where you were. Kobe’s death will be like that. Another one for me that connects with the Lakers was when Magic retired because of HIV. Who in a million years, almost 30 years after Magic’s announcement, would have guessed than Johnson would live longer than Kobe?
— The AFC won the Pro Bowl. Allegedly. Didn’t see it.
— Kudos to the dudes who carried the ESPN Kobe SportsCenter coverage on Sunday. They were excellent. And the tributes from the teams — whether it was the 24-second violations or the 8-second backcourt violations to start games or Madison Square Garden turning the lights purple and gold — were classy and well done.
— Marc Leishman won Sunday at Torrey Pines. Tiger was kind of a factor. Also of note, the continued fall of Jordan Spieth, who is out of the top 50 in the world rankings for the first time in more than six years.
— Cool story here from TFP All-Around ace David Paschall about how “College GameDay,” the hoops version, is going to Auburn for the UK-Auburn game this weekend.
Weekend winners and losers. Go.
Have you entered the picks contest? If not why not?
OK, the Dallas Mavericks have announced that no other Mavericks player will wear No. 24 in honor of Kobe. Should the NBA retire the No. 24 in honor of Bryant? I lean toward no, but am intrigued by the thought.
Which athlete’s death had the biggest impact on your life?
As for today, well, it’s Jan. 27. Let’s explore.
On this day in 1894, the University of Chicago beat Chicago YMCA 19-11 in the first documented college basketball game. Pretty sure Dickie V was on the call for that one.
Andre the Giant died on this day in 1993. Rushmore of “Giants,” and be creative.
RIP Kobe. (And tell the people you love that you love them. Every single day.)