Major sports figures are the subjects of so much passion. Entire generations of people draw unquantifiable amounts of emotion from the exploits of the stars of their favorite teams. When they fail, they are the subject of derision and burned jerseys; when they succeed, statues are erected and banners unfurled.
For the many legions of Los Angeles sports fans, there may be no more fervently followed figure than Kobe Bryant.
His name is synonymous with winning, with unmatched confidence backed by unbelievable results, and with the game of basketball as a whole. Thousands of fans named their children after him, millions made his jersey the first their child ever owned, and his shoes their most cherished gift. An entire city lifted him up when he beat the Boston Celtics in 2010, giving many young LA fans the first championship for their city that they could remember, cementing his place as the favorite basketball star of at least one fifth grader, who told anyone who would listen that there was no chance Kobe would lose. Kobe starred as the centerpiece of an entire decade of city-bonding teams, from his days with Shaquille O’Neal to those with Pau Gasol.
As a Lakers fan who grew up during the prime of Kobe’s career, there was no day during my time in elementary school or middle school where he didn’t make an appearance. Every time someone got up to throw anything away, despite desperate pleas from teachers to simply drop it in the can, all of us aspiring Lakers fans would yell “Kobe!” while flailing around in an uncoordinated attempt at a signature Kobe fade away with our balled up piece of paper.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna passed away Sunday morning on their way to basketball practice, and the basketball world will never be the same. Tens of millions will never forget where they were that morning, and many millions more will be unable to shake the dark chills that came with finding out the news for the first time.
The pair embodied so much of what makes sports so special, even in their tragic death. Kobe would bring GiGi to NBA games, sitting courtside with her and breaking down the game with his child. He was her basketball coach, dedicating his post-NBA days to spending time with his biggest fan.
His death came in the news first, along with reports that his family was not in the helicopter with him. Then, reports told the already-mourning sports world that his daughter had passed as well.
That’s when the loss began to hit me hardest.
I immediately began to think of how many times my parents and grandparents have taken me to practices and games. There is so much love embedded within these acts. Taking a child to practice over and over goes so underappreciated, and yet parents, with so much support and love in their hearts, continue to repeat the act, with no need for recognition.
Kobe and GiGi’s connection through basketball is mirrored within the parent-child relationship of so many billions of people over hundreds of years. Seeing videos of Kobe running through drills with GiGi and then seeing GiGi hit a Kobe-style shot in her own games reminds me of playing catch with my grandpa or dad and trying to throw as hard and as perfect as I could to make them proud. Hopefully, his death inspires fans to keep their loved ones closer, even just for today, and helps bring the city together one last time, just as he did in his life.