“The NBA’s Saddest Day”
How do you put into words this news that came at 12-noon on Sunday.
Kobe Bryant-dead at age 41-helicopter crash.
It took my breath away as I was working at my computer writing another column. I ached with the thought of what could have happened. It overwhelmed me with a sadness of enormous proportion.
Bryant’s death came hours after Lakers icon LeBron James passed him for third place on the NBA’s all time scoring list. Hours after Kobe’s well wishes were sent to LeBron after the record night outing in Philadelphia.
It came days after Kobe was photographed at a Lakers game with his oldest daughter, talking basketball.
It came just as his second career, a Hollywood entrepreneur, was taking off on the business side of life.
Can you imagine the sadness within the Lakers offices where all those NBA trophies he helped secure sit in a spotlight.
Think of the enormous sadness for the guys he played for, Jerry West, Mitch Kupchack and those coaches.
Think of is zen master confidant, coach Phil Jackson, and what they taught each other over the years.
Think about the ache Magic Johnson must feel for the Mamba’s passing.
Think about the inner feelings of Shaquille O’Neal and all those great Lakers who wore Purple & Gold as his teammate.
The Buss family, from the iconic owner Jerry, to the daughter who rebuilt the team Jeannie, and all the brothers, are deep in sorrow.
Bryant was brilliant right from the start, after the Lakers got his rights in a trade for Vlade Divac from the Charlotte Hornets decades ago.
Scoring titles, NBA rings, MVP honors and Hall of Fame honors soon to come.
He was not perfect, as witnessed by the sexual assault allegations in Colorado at the height of his career.
His ego and drive were on display on the court and in locker-room clashes with coaches and teammates, something all stars are driven by. The clashes with Shaq over ‘who’s team is it’. The battles with Dwight Howard and Karl Malone.
But he grew thru all those exchanges and walking thru NBA life late in his career with Phil Jackson, made him a complete player and possibly a better person.
He was not Superman, as his body broke down, knee and Achilles issues at the end.
But the legendary star leaves us with so many great moments. The rings, the celebrations, the 81-point night, and the 60-point farewell game.
Life can be so fragile, whether it’s you-me-or someone like Kobe Bryant.
I write with sadness in my heart and a tear from my eye.
I walked the hillsides in West Virginia, the night the Marshall football team plan crashed, killing everyone.
I covered the funeral of Yankees icon Thurman Munson, a friend, who died doing touches and goes in his private plane at Akron-Canton airport on an off day.
This was as shocking as the day Magic Johnson announced he had tested positive for HIV.
You just never forget these moments.
At this moment inside his arena, all the championship banners and jerseys are covered in purple. The light shined brightly however on his two retired jerseys hanging in the rafters, in a solemn salute, inside a quiet-dark arena.
And at the plaza outside the Staple Center thruout Sunday afternoon, the outpouring of affection, of grief, of respect. They wore everything, from Lakers hats, to Kobe jerseys, his NBA model shoes. They left pictures, signs, jerseys, hat, jackets and flowers, lots of flowers. They brought candles, said prayers, sang rap songs and chanted Kobe-MVP-MVP as they had for so many years inside that building.
And now this story. Kobe killed in a crash. As sad a day as our sports world must ever work thru.
RIP #8-#24. No one will ever forget you.