In the wake of Kobe Bryant’s death, basketball game is refuge

Kobe Bryant’s shocking death yesterday hit me on an unexpected level.

When my son broke the news to me, my heart sank. Horrible, sad, tragic…what are the words? There are no words; there are too many words.

It was a moment that smacked me up-side my entire being, soul and body. I realize I am far from alone in this response, especially among zealous sports fans. One who fits that description is my brother and during a text exchange yesterday, he wrote, “A bit numb.”

What is it about this death that has rocked me more than any other public figure’s death in memory? The only comparison is when I found out Len Bias died—then, a short time later, the circumstances leading to his death. I had met Len the previous summer at a basketball camp, and felt some personal connection in that case.

But with Kobe, here’s a man I never knew. At the same time, I felt like I knew him, at least to some degree. He grew up before my eyes, from a 17-year-old kid who was drafted in the first round to a 41-year-old legend whose supreme talent was amplified by his unsurpassed work ethic and determination.

He was my Boston Celtics’ arch nemesis, he was everyone’s nemesis at various times, in fact. For a long time, I didn’t particularly like him. He didn’t much care to be liked, anyway. He developed a reputation as a crybaby, especially through his well-chronicled friction with fellow Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal. Off the court, he was far from perfect.

But over the last decade or so, Kobe had matured and transformed into a new phase of global icon and leader; his post-playing career was shaping up to be something potentially even more extraordinary than his NBA performance.

More than the Kobe who has been, I mourn the Kobe that never got to be. He was blossoming and the world would have been empowered by his future impact. Maybe, if enough of us tap into our inner Mamba, that kind of impact will yet occur as a way of honoring his life and legacy.

Therapy, for me, last night was having a church-league basketball game to play. During pre-game warm-ups, though this shocking development is all I can think about, I make a point of not voicing it. What can be said?

In the pre-game huddle with teammates and opposing team members, our captain offers standard remarks, then concludes it with: “A moment of silence for Kobe.”

There is respectful, reverential, sad silence for a moment. And then we move forward with what we came for. It’s the same thing that prompted Kobe and his daughter, Gianni, to get aboard that chopper with seven others earlier in the day: a basketball game.

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