Kobe Bryant left an indelible mark on us all, didn’t he? It wasn’t the game-winning shots or the championship celebrations. Sure, those were part of it. But ultimately it was about his charisma. There was something about Kobe. He meant more than a shot or a win or a title. He transcended all of that. He was Kobe. He was Mamba. He was unbreakable.
Until he wasn’t.
It was devastating news, learning of Kobe’s death. I was flying when the news hit, and when I turned on my phone and got the notifications, it felt somehow worse that I landed and he didn't. That his daughter, Gianna, only 13-years-old, didn't. Like the American Pie plane crash or Princess Diana's death, we’ll all remember where we were when the news hit that Kobe had been killed in a helicopter accident. That I was flying at the same time as him hit me deeper for whatever reason.
But unlike past tragedies, there wasn’t a "bye, bye Miss American Pie" rhyme that made you feel better. Kobe Bryant, a man who made as much of an impact on my life as any athlete before, was gone. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t find the tears. I was too busy denying. Certainly this was wrong.
When I landed in Tel Aviv, Israel, I knew it wasn’t wrong. It was true. Kobe and his daughter, along with seven others, were killed in a helicopter accident. It wasn’t ok. I didn’t know what to do but write. And so here I was. Thinking back on 81 points, and alley oops to Shaq against the bad boy Blazers and the numbers 8 and 24. Both should be retired by every team.
But more than that, I thought of him talking to Gianna 10 years from now on the sideline in the Women's NCAA Basketball Tournament. I thought of more playful jabs between him and Shaq through the media. I thought of Kobe producing another movie, or being his daughter's coach, or just smiling and bringing joy to people like only he could.
I thought of a future that doesn’t exist. That can’t exist. Because of that unbelievable news that I can’t believe I have to write right now.
Kobe is gone.
That much is true. No matter how I denied it. It couldn’t be true. It wasn’t allowed. Deny to the end. Kobe was with us.
Until he wasn’t.
The truth, of course, was inevitable. We all come. We all go. But not our heroes. Not the Kobe's of the world. Jordan is here. Gretzky too. Tiger might win another major this year. Brady a Super Bowl next year. Our heroes are with us.
Until they aren’t.
Kobe Bryant did everything we could have expected as a player. He was more than we could have hoped. He left us with not one, but two legacies. 8 and 24. Three titles with one number, two more with another. He’s top 15 of all time. Maybe higher for the Kobe truthers out there. There’s no denying his spot, regardless of where you put him.
But what's left is an empty hole of what ifs. Not about the player. We saw that to its full realization. But the person was always more important. It’s what made Kobe great. It’s what made him stand apart. It was that charisma. It was that smile. It was the total dedication to whatever he did. He was the man. But now we’ll never know what kind of man he would have become. What kind of woman his daughter would have become. That, above all else, is the most devastating part of it all.