By Jesse Brooks
I had a gig heavy weekend so I spent my birthday catching up on sleep before evening activities. I woke up late in the afternoon to hear about the death of Kobe Byrant and his daughter Gianna.
It was similar to the way learned about the death of Anthony Bourdain, who was a personal idol to me. It was jarring and surreal.
I grew up in a basketball culture. I was a child during the Michael Jordan era which made the infectious nature of the game all the more intoxicating. By the time I started to reach an age to start preparing to play actual competitive basketball, the Jordan era had ended and the adolescents around me started choosing new idols.
Before the arrival of an NBA team in New Orleans, without Jordan, I was a bit of a bandwagon fan. Vince Carter, who turned 43 and is currently playing in his final NBA season, was my guy in junior high. I was also briefly a Los Angeles Lakers fan through the Shaq-LSU connection during their first championship run. That was when I was first introduced to Byrant.
Once New Orleans got a team and my alliances were set, that is when I got to know Byrant, the basketball player, even better. He was a frequent source of my frustration, especially after New Orleans was moved into the Western Conference.
Every time New Orleans held a 10 point lead in the fourth quarter over the Lakers there would still be a sense of dread in the building because it was known that the Black Mamba was going to strike.
In sports, you come to respect your rivals and the impact they leave behind. It was clear that beyond the money and celebrity of the NBA, Bryant absolutely loved the game of basketball. He felt a responsibility to pass it on. He was passing it on to Gianna and other youth up until the moment he died.
Bryant was retired. We tend to think of retired athletes as “old”. Bryant died young and appeared to have laid out an extensive post-basketball life. He wasn’t a perfect person but appeared that he recognized his position and influence in the world and wanted to work to be better.
The elephant in the room is the infamous sexual assault case from 2003. There will be much debate about how much this affects his legacy and about how the case was handled. For whatever happened that night, Bryant made some unbecoming choices that were unfortunate. He admitted as much on the day the criminal charges were dismissed.
I can’t speak for Byrant, but it appeared that the aftermath of that time was a turning point in his life. He took the game that he loved and used it to promote goodwill purposes around the world the older he got in life.
He was a force and 100 percent bought into anything he decided to be a part of. Now that is gone.
Vanessa has lost her husband and her child. Her daughters lost their sister and their father. Other children, coaches, and parents were lost that day.
The world mourns and reflects tonight.