I’ve been working on another piece for a few weeks and just haven’t gotten a chance to get it done to my own satisfaction without shirking my other responsibilities, so I’ll stick to something a little more timely today with the hopes that it can be done stream of consciousness style and edited down quickly.
As a lifelong basketball fan, and long-time coach, of course, I was shocked by the news of Kobe Bryant’s death yesterday. Kobe was a top-10 all-time player who defined a generation of basketball, and the outpouring of love and grief is truly deserved in that respect.
Here’s the thing though, this incident goes so much further than basketball to me. This is the story of a father and a daughter, among other sets of families on that helicopter. It is a national story because that is the way media works. If this helicopter crashed without Kobe Bryant on it, very few people outside of the Los Angeles metro area would have heard about it, but because Kobe was on it, the story became major news. This doesn’t mean anyone’s life on that helicopter was any more or less important, it is just how the news works.
My initial reaction when I found out was not grief that we lost a great basketball player, but fear of a situation that seems so mundane. These people did not die because of something they did to themselves or a dangerous situation that they put themselves in; it was a freak accident.
My first thought when I heard the news was not even really about Kobe himself, but of the family that he and his daughter inadvertently left behind. One of my students asked me today if I had heard about Kobe and what I thought about it. My response was that my heart was broken for his wife and other children. Of course, it is unimaginable what happened to the people on that helicopter, but there are now people who have to go on living without loved ones. For all the people who are lining up at Staples Center (I know their heart is in the right place even though I will never understand people who do things like that), they are merely grieving an idea. Some people have said that they couldn’t work today because of the news, and I just found that ridiculous. They didn’t know these people. Maybe they felt like they did, and just didn’t know how to process the grief, but all I could think was, “what if that was me?”
If that were my wife and son on the helicopter, how would I continue on? What if I was on that helicopter? I can’t even imagine. It’s a sobering thought to most people, and I think that is why this has been so traumatic to fans throughout the world. This was not a legend dying after a long life, this was not someone whose vices got the better of him. This was a person who many looked up to as a superhero who lost his life in a tragic, unpredictable accident. It could have been me. It could have been anybody, and people don’t like to think about mortality in that way.
I wasn’t sure I was going to write about this when it happened because I didn’t really know what I would write. However, what happened on my drive home today is what brought me here. When I pick up my son fro school, I drive past an apartment where two young girls were killed in a house fire last year. After the accident, there was an outpouring of support, and a shrine of balloons, stuffed animals and signs to try to share the love with the survivors of this tragedy. Today, no balloons remain. A few remnants from the shrine are up, but it seems largely forgotten. It felt wrong to drive past there today and see what looked like memories being forgotten as social media timelines were being filled with Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the other people on the plane.
There were 9 people on the plane, and now that they have been identified their lives are being celebrated, but it feels a little unfair. Shrines to Kobe will probably exist for the rest of my lifetime and longer; I’m not advocating that they shouldn’t. His number has already been retired by an opposing team, and sports talk radio hosts are asking whether it should be a league-wide retirement. But after a week, are the other victims of that crash going to be mentioned? Will the outpouring of support that is currently there still be going, or are these families going to be left back alone to deal with their grief?
I can’t imagine what something like this would do to my family, and I don’t want to. Important conversations are taking place as a result, and maybe that is another legacy that can be left by all those people who were lost. I just keep going back to that apartment on the drive. I did not know those families, so I don’t really know what is happening with them now, but I’d like to think that even though the public shrine has gone, the private love, support, and help is happening. I’d like to think that if something terrible like this happens to people I know, that I will go a little more out of my way to help. I’d like to think that something good could come out of something horrible, and at least from the social media that I’ve seen, it appears that is exactly what is happening.