Kobe Bean Bryant
There probably is no need to explain to you who Kobe Bryant was. You probably knew before the tragic helicopter accident last Sunday that took his life and that of 8 others, including his 13-year-old daughter. Even if you did not follow the NBA or the Los Angeles Lakers, you likely knew his name. He is the 4th all-time leading scorer in NBA history.
He played 20 seasons with the same team. He was an 18-time all-star and had 5 championship rings. He had two Olympic gold medals. He won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film, Dear Basketball, in 2018. His accomplishments will now be a thing of a great legend. He was only 41 years old.
On Sunday I was on Facebook when I noticed on my newsfeed that my friend in France had posted an article about the death of Kobe Bryant from SPORT24.LEFIGARO.FR. “This can not be true,” I thought. “It must be a hoax or something.”
More notices started popping up. Some were from well known and reputable sources. I finally went to the Los Angeles outlet of one of the major networks and watched for a while. It was clear the anchors at the news desk were unsure what to say. They brought in their sports reporter to say something, anything that made sense. It was hard to speak.
How did my friends in France know this before I did? I was online and even stopped on my news page before hitting social media. Of course, social media was all a-buzz before long. It was the trending story and had quickly traveled around the world. The next day my French buddy wrote to me on Messenger, “I heard Kobe passed away. It’s sad.”
On Sunday night the annual Grammy Awards were held at the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. The pre-show, red carpet events included words of condolence for the Bryant family. The opening honored Kobe and many of the artists mentioned him. LA was shaken by the news that they had lost one of their most famous residents.
My friend from France was a big basketball fan. He worked in Chicago for a year and has a Bulls jersey, of course. His older brother had worked in Los Angeles and was a Lakers fan. In fact, he had been to many games while working in LA. Both friends appreciated the play of Kobe Bryant. Basketball is big in France, as well as many places in the world. Superstars like Bryant are iconic heroes to many people. NBA popularity is almost universal.
On my many visits to France, my friend and I often spent evenings in front of the television watching NBA basketball replays. On the weekends, my friends might stay up late to watch an afternoon game at night their time. It did not bother me that the commentary was in French. I knew the games well enough and if something really interesting was said, my friend would translate. NBA was big and Bryant was bigger, particularly for the younger generations. You were likely to see a lot of Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Tony Parker jerseys and t-shirts around town.
The NBA reach extends beyond Europe and in fact, can be seen around the globe. The marketing is fierce and Kobe had long been one of the premier faces of the NBA. I am sure his passing was trending on social media everywhere it is allowed.
In St. Petersburg, Russia I have a young friend. He “likes” two sports teams on Facebook. One is the Los Angeles Lakers. He wrote to me on Skype the next morning his time. It was still Sunday night here. “G** damn, Rich. Kobe is dead. I just can’t believe.” I was still up so I wrote back about how sad it was. “I wanna cry, I was grown on this man, on his games. I remember how I woke up at 4-5am to watch NBA games.”
That is how it was for many around the world. They would get up early or stay up late to watch Kobe and NBA games live. Some would have to settle for replays, but the games were everywhere. And everyone around the world who was a basketball fan knew Kobe.
All week the talk on ESPN radio and various sports radio and television programs included segments on Kobe and what he meant to the game. Many athletes shared how Kobe had inspired them. Some told of personal interactions with the NBA star. Highlights of his play were often seen. Talking and sharing was a way to move through the tragic news.
This month the NBA All-Star game will come to Chicago and the night will be filled with tributes. It will be hard for some of the players to go on. Later in the year, Bryant will go into the Basketball Hall of Fame posthumously. It will be yet another emotional day.
If you have traveled outside the US and have friends in many countries, you are aware of the reach of the NBA. You know how the players, especially those of great skill, have reached hero status, for young and older fans alike. This tragic passing of Bryant has brought tears to Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and Strasbourg, St. Petersburg and many places even farther away from here. Such is the reach of Bryant and the NBA.