Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Column: 1 year later, the loss of Kobe Bryant still resonates

January 27, 2021
<p>Senior forward Nia Hollie&#x27;s (12) shoe photographed during a basketball game against Michigan on Feb. 23, 2020.</p>

Senior forward Nia Hollie's (12) shoe photographed during a basketball game against Michigan on Feb. 23, 2020.

Photo by Alyte Katilius | The State News

A year ago?

Sometimes, it feels like a decade ago.

"Kobe is dead," my roommate yelled exactly one year ago from our living room.

I sat on the stairs, thinking he was lying – who would believe that on a Sunday morning that fell on Jan. 26.

He wasn't. We all slowly came to realize in one way or another that the player for the Los Angeles Lakers that was drafted at the age of 18 and played 20 seasons until he was 38, was gone. So was his daughter, Gianna Bryant and their seven companions.

John and Keri Altobelli, their daughter Alyssa, Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, her daughter Payton Chester and pilot Ara Zobayan all died in the helicopter crash that occurred early that morning northwest of Los Angeles.

The loved ones of those in the crash lost something that can never be replaced that day, the Bryant family lost their "girl-dad" and the sports world lost an icon. It was the first time in my life that I felt real grief for those families and everyone close to them – even never coming too close to knowing any of them personally.

A year later, it resonates with me and others still.

It foreshadowed a year of loss for hundreds of thousands of Americans. One struck by the pandemics tight grip on our world that has forced us inside and away from each other when – as humans often do – we just wish to congregate and help heal the nation in one of the most difficult years of our time.

Hank Aaron, John Thompson Jr. and others passed this year. When I try to rip through my memory of Bryant, it feels like years ago that the sad morning happened, not just one year.

We've all lost something. Today reminded me again, just like it did one year ago, that those you hold close to your heart can be taken swiftly.

As I thought about how to write this column, I strolled into the gym on campus at MSU to shoot hoops. I needed exercise and with every rise and fall of a jump shot, I thought about the dozens, hundreds of games Bryant played and the millions that watched in awe as Bryant's career took turns left and then right and left again.

It was strange. Over the top of my mask I peered at the others in the gym, they also likely thought about No. 24 as they too power-dribbled on the block, spun on their heels and shot a fadeaway.

Just like Kobe.

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His complicated legacy that is riddled with controversy, the 34,000+ career points, 81 points in a single NBA game only second to Wilt Chamberlain's 100. He took his basketball afterlife and showcased wonderful fatherhood, in some ways switching the narrative.

He was an icon and idol, father and founder of us tossing paper into waste bins.

"Kobe has a legacy that, even if you weren't a fan of basketball, you would still know exactly who it was and what team he played for," Merritt Hamann, a friend who plays college basketball now, said in a text. "He was just a competitor that worked his ass off for his city, family, team."

It is something many can relate to, the "Mamba Mentality" that resonates with us in work, sport and our passions.

I went on throughout my day one year ago, unable to escape the constant flow of news and updates of that awful crash that took those nine from their families and ended their lives too soon.

The vigil on campus that cold night in January was a sight I was surprised by. Some students cried and the rock on campus memorialized Gigi and Kobe. Students flocked as our generation's Michael Jordan didn't even reach age 50. It always will be a terrible and sad memory, but it slips so easily from your mind when more and more deaths followed this past year.

The Lakers made a run for an NBA Championship in a bubble. It was for Kobe, the shot that Anthony Davis hit in the playoffs and then yelled what we all were thinking, "KOBE", as the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets in their West Conference Finals matchup.

It was another symbol of the legend of Bryant on the court that will forever define the beautiful game of basketball. A legacy that Davis himself grew up idolizing at Kentucky and then in the NBA as a player and All-star.

Just like that the living legend was gone.

Just like that – life was taken from the nine of them.

Just like that, memories flooded today back into my consciousness of that day as I read the LA Times' chronological story of the year that followed Bean's death.

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Just like that, I rose up and shot the basketball again at the gym on MSU's campus.

I missed. But it didn't matter.

"KOBE," I thought to myself.

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