Basketball lost an icon today.
The world lost an icon today.
Kobe Bryant died on this day, Sunday, January 26th, 2020, in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California along with his 13-year old daughter, Gianna. He was just 41 years old.
I had just sat down in Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City to cover Iowa vs. Michigan State in women’s basketball in what was to be a momentous and joyous occasion for the Iowa women’s program: The retirement of Megan Gustafson’s jersey.
That was when I received the news. A legend was gone, in the blink of an eye. I, along with billions across the world, were left dumbfounded, speechless, bewildered, any similar adjective you can think of.
I was never a Lakers fan growing up. In fact I was, and still am, a fan of their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics. But Kobe was a guy I could never hate, the way he played, how hard he worked, how genuine he was in everything he did. I could only dream to be as focused and passionate as he was.
But, how could Kobe Bryant die?
He was superhuman, he was a machine, he was an inspiration, he was the Black Mamba.
I didn’t have much time to grieve for this bitter tragedy. I had a job to do, and coincidentally enough, it was broadcasting the same game that Bryant devoted so much of his life too: basketball.
Throughout the game, I couldn’t shake the thought of Bryant’s death from my mind. My phone was continuously receiving notifications and updates throughout the contest on new details from a once-in-a-generation level of tragedy.
The relief I was looking for came in the form of a late Iowa run that was Mamba-esque. Bucket after bucket after bucket, through contact, with fouls, and the Hawkeyes willed their way to a 74-57 win over Michigan State.
After the game, however, proved to be the sweet part of this day. Watching a player in Megan Gustafson, who by all accounts, harbors a work ethic that a Kobe Bryant would appreciate, see her #10 jersey raised to the rafters at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, never to be worn again.
At a press conference shortly following the ceremony, Gustafson was asked what it meant that Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder said “Girls say they wanna be like Megan, not like Mike”. The answer she gave sounded like it should’ve came from an icon like Kobe Bryant.
“I want to be able to represent women in sports and to be an influence for girls and boys all around the country, it’s an incredible honor,” Gustafson said. “It’s not just about me as a female, it’s about me as an athlete and to be able to break barriers like that.”
After that, it was back to reality, as I sit in my room typing this and watching the continuous coverage of Kobe’s death. It’s coverage that’s going to be happening for at least the next week, if not longer.
Today was like The Verve’s 1997 mega-hit “Bittersweet Symphony”. However, the Symphony is not music, rather people talking around the world, paying tribute to an athlete who transcended his sport like few others had before in a melancholy tune.
Fortunately for me and 13,420 others, the symphony in my location for a time was a nostalgic, triumphant tune. Although it only played for a couple of hours, sometimes that’s all you need to make you feel good.