Very few things in life are fair and, on Sunday, Kobe Bryant’s death reminded us in no uncertain terms that sports are no exception.
Yes, I am fully aware that this is a Braves blog and this is neither a basketball site, nor a site for the Los Angeles market. However, when it was reported that Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, John Altobelli along with his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, Christina Mauser, and three others were killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, no one cared about rooting interests, career stat lines, playoff seeding, or any of that other shit.
There were hearts broken.
There was shock.
There was confusion.
….and so much more.
Sports, and for this author baseball in particular, are an escape and source of comfort for a lot of people. My childhood was a difficult one, but I cherished those rare trips to Turner Field where I could forget what I didn’t have and just take in, for that brief window of time, that I was in the same stadium as the team that I cheered for in our little apartment when they were on TV. More often than not, sports bring us far more joy, even during the times when they frustrate the hell out of us, than sorrow. Sunday was not one of those days.
There are few things in this world that can collectively gut-punch or lift up an entire population like sports can. After 9/11, some of the healing that is frankly still ongoing started when games started back and fans grieved together. We as a community celebrate great Super Bowls or World Series or World Cups or Stanley Cups as contests well-fought, and revel in the sports we love. Everyone grieved at the losses of Jose Fernandez, Thurman Munson, Roberto Clemente and many others.
It is when those figures that transcend their teams and eras to become legends leave us and do so suddenly that it can hurt the most. For Kobe Bryant’s fans, they won’t get to see him get the honors that were coming to him and enjoy the full breadth of his legacy. For his family, they lost a husband and father that they were finally going to get to spend quality time with, now that his career was over. For sports fans everywhere, there is this sense that he was taken too soon and, unlike some of his contemporaries, we were robbed of chances debate about his legacy, where he ranks, etc.
Now, make no mistake, Bryant’s legacy is absolutely going to get debated, but I think we all agree that the tenor of those discussions will change. There will be columns written about him being the best to ever play the game, others about the sexual assault allegations from his past and how those color his legacy, and others wondering how the league should honor him in the wake of his passing. All of these things are completely fair and folks will have very strong opinions about them because, well, that’s sports.
However, yesterday, no one gave a damn if you had watched a Lakers game in the past two decades. No one cared if you had tweeted that Jordan was better or that Bryant was better years ago. No one cared if you were sitting in front of your TV with a Clippers or Hawks or Supersonics jersey as you were trying to pick your jaw up off the ground watching the news unfold in front of us.
That is the power of sports. While it doesn’t do it often and it is often defined by fan bases and teams going at each other, there are moments in sports history that impact fans of all stripes and creeds. We will remember them until we die and we will tell our kids and grandkids about them. Most of the time, those are moments in games where the improbable happened in a big game or when a generational player debuts or retires. Those are the moments that lift us all up and show the true beauty of sports fandom.
Unfortunately, the downside of that is that moments like Bryant’s passing can break our hearts collectively and make us struggle to find the words to even describe the impact that player has had or even how one is feeling. I know when the news broke, all I could think about was his family and, in particular, his kids who will have to grow up without their father. While I cannot relate to Kobe Bryant much on any level, as a dad... that part stuck out to me and hurt the most. I hugged my daughter extra tight today.
I will close with this: my deepest condolences go out to all of the victims’ families and loved ones. This will come as little solace, but know that there are a lot of people out there in the world sending their love your way right now.
To the rest of you: remember than none of us get to really choose when and how we go, so show your loved ones you love them every day, be kind, work hard, and don’t suffer people who are aiming to bring you down.