The day the sports world stopped turning: In memory of Kobe

Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Kobe Bryant’s death is a death that transcends sports, and reminds us to cherish the life that we have all the more.

There are few people who transcend the game of basketball. There are even less that transcend the sports world in general.

Kobe Bryant is one of those people.

Growing up in southern Minnesota, we didn’t like the Los Angeles Lakers too much. They took our championship squad from us, and there was always a bit of a rivalry between the two teams in the early 2000’s.

When I was 10 years old, my dad turned on a game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Lakers. The Timberwolves were in that weird post-Kevin Garnett where everybody thought that maybe they’d do well, and then always dropped the ball during the big games. Because of this, there were few players who were actually doing well. But there was one player who was dominating on both ends of the court. Kobe was draining shots, moving the ball, and was just being a general terror.

I actually remember that game, and Kobe ended up with 20 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 steal. He shot 44% from the field and 33% from 3-point range. I was mesmerized. It was an average game for him.

It seems like my love for the game wasn’t the only one that started while watching Kobe. Everybody from fans to current players can trace their love of the game back to watching the Mamba tear up every night.

Then, on January 26th, 2020, he died.

It was a moment that will live on in infamy for many, if not everybody, that loves the NBA. The basketball world went from feeling excitement over a fairly decent slate of Sunday games, to feeling so sick that most just wanted the NBA to cancel the games. Think about that for a minute. Some of the biggest fans in the world wanted the NBA to just not play during the middle of the regular season. We’d later learn that eight other people, including Kobe’s daughter Gianni “GiGi” Bryant, had passed away on the helicopter as well.

But Kobe’s death showed us something else, it showed everyone — from NBA fans to people who never watch basketball — how connected we all are.

Never before have I seen a reaction like the one I saw on Twitter yesterday. Kobe Bryant was the subject of any tweet on my timeline, and I suspect (based on what I saw), on others timeline’s as well. Not only that, but every single trending topic for hours afterwards had something to do with the tragedy. How often, in a news saturated world, do we see that happen? Never.

For a generation of fans, Kobe’s name will live on in our hearts, and in our memories. The people who spent their childhood playing pickup games and doing any pull-up jumper would yell Kobe, the people who would stand at their desk in school and shoot a paper ball into the basket while screaming Kobe, the people who all learned the 3-point jump shot form he made so iconic; these fans are everywhere: they’re bankers, farmers, gas station clerks, janitors, teachers. Even more impressive, these fans are now NBA players, and they’re writers, hoping to break down and analyse the game that Kobe made them fall in love with. Kobe’s name will live on in those people’s work and in their fandom. As well as every time they shoot a paper ball into the trash can.

There are few people who can do this, whose name and legacy will surpass the fans of their work. Kobe is one of them, without a doubt. His death shocked the world, and for a moment, the sports world put aside all fan rivalries and comforted each other in the face of something which we always fear happening, and which always happens too soon.

From everyone here at Beale Street Bears, our thoughts and prayers go out to Kobe’s family, friends, fans, and the entire Lakers organization, as well as the loved ones of the others that died; and we have just two requests.

First, never let his name and his legacy leave your mind. Every time you take that pull-up J, or shoot your socks into your hamper, or toss a can into the garbage, don’t let the tragedy of what happened yesterday keep you from shouting “Kobe” with a smile on your face.

And second, just for a moment, forget that our last memory of him was LeBron passing him on the all-time scoring record. That’s a mark for LeBron’s legacy, not Kobe’s. Instead, remember the 60 point game, where a 37-year-old Bryant played for 42 minutes to give the fans one last memory. Where a man put his heart, body, and soul on the line to give everything to a game that he loved, and that he made others love.

In our lifetime, there will only be a few people whose name will be remembered with just one word: Madonna, Bowie, Prince, Oprah, Pop.