I was sitting there; my eyes transfixed on my computer screen, looking at a headline I didn’t want to believe.
“Kobe Bryant, Daughter Gigi Die in Helicopter Crash…”
When TMZ hastily reported that Kobe Bryant, the former NBA superstar destined for Hall of Fame enshrinement by the end of 2020, had tragically passed, an unexpected sense of personal grief seldom experienced washed over me. I had never rooted for Bryant, and often booed him when he played my (and his) hometown Philadelphia 76ers. Yet, I was still overwhelmed with emotion following the death of Bryant, his daughter and seven others on Jan. 27 in Calabasas, Calif.
He had impacted me in a way I had not thought possible for a non-Sixer. As a player, he had broken my heart so many times. As an NBA retiree and father to four daughters, he broke my heart more so. This sentiment was not exclusive to me, however. After news of his passing had started to set in — though, I’m sure it will never feel real — NBA players, fans and even non-fans poured their emotions onto social media and began trading stories of the Black Mamba.
Bryant’s death was a devastating tragedy — and a beautiful example.
Murals of Bryant began popping up all over the world soon after his death. International soccer, golf and tennis stars wore his jersey during practices and games. Musical artists paid tribute to Bryant with new songs and total strangers gathered outside the Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers’ stadium wherein Bryant had played his entire 20-year career, to grieve and commemorate the Laker legend.
The death of Bryant made the Earth stand still. Then, slowly, the celebration of his life brought the world together in a way that illustrated the special unifying power of sports.
For a few days, nothing mattered but Bryant. The typical political tension or cultural differences that so often separate the citizens of the world dissolved, and the Earth found peace in death.
Despite never having known him and often having hoped for his failure on the court, Bryant impacted me off the court in a way that I was wholly unaware of until his passing, a realization I surely share with countless others.
It is truly wretched that our collective bond was strengthened by the NBA’s loss of one of its greatest ambassadors, the Bryant family’s loss of a father and a daughter, and the people’s loss of their basketball hero. But, unfortunately, that is the power of sports.
I was once transfixed by words of Bryant’s death and the tweets that hoped in vain for the news to be a sick hoax. Now, I find myself unable to look away from the screen as I read the countless stories of the Black Mamba and his impact on the world.
Through triumph and tragedy, sports bring people together in a way mimicked by a few other unifying faculties. The relationships forged between fans with shared ideas, interests and intensities are special, for they endure. I shared tears with total strangers on Broad Street on Feb. 8, 2018 — the date of the Philadelphia Eagles’ Super Bowl parade. It was a beautiful emotional exchange; fans of the same team embraced one another for wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
On Jan. 27, I once again shed tears with those who I never knew but with whom I shared a special connection forged through abrupt devastation. Raw, unchecked emotion shared by billions and born out of heartache.