When the news of Kobe Bryant’s death hit every media outlet known to man I, like a million other people, began reading every news article that popped up. We all seem to have an insatiable curiosity when it comes to death, especially the death of someone that well known. So we soak up every tidbit of information until, at least for me, it becomes too much. Too much information, too much sadness, too much reflection . . . simply too much.
In all of that reading, one fact stood out above all the rest. Everyone who responded publicly was grieving. And everyone was grieving differently. So many were honoring his memory and each memorial was different, determined by their relationship with him.
NBA teams scheduled to play that night traded 24 second shot clock penalties or 8 second backcourt penalties, each number representing the jerseys Bryant wore during his storied career. There were standing ovations as the teams honored him and moments of respectful, grief-filled silence. Many wrote “R.I.P. Kobe” on their tennis shoes, briefly wore jerseys sporting one of his two numbers, or openly wept as they tried to cope with the devastating news. Yet still they played. They played to honor his legacy. They played because Life does not stop for Death.
The fans donned their Bryant jerseys and left offerings at impromptu memorials. Many gathered at the Staples Center, home to the Los Angeles Lakers, the team for which he played for his entire 20 year career in the NBA. It had become known as “the house that Kobe built” and that day the Jumbotron outside bore his picture and the words “In Loving Memory”. Many people, whether fans of the game or not, posted on Facebook and shared their feelings on Twitter and Instagram as they tried to understand how his life could end this way.
The very night of his death the Staples Center was set to host the Grammy Awards. As the news began to spread and rumors became truth, the officials at the center started planning their tribute. While the stars rehearsed their music for the evening, the maintenance crews moved Bryant’s number 8 and number 24 jerseys so they hung side by side, draping all others so only his were visible. Normally, the jerseys that hang in the arena are not illuminated during non-sporting events, but on that night, those two remained in the spotlight for the entire evening. The performers acknowledged his loss, remembering his greatness and his impact, and throughout the night silent reminders filled the event . . . his jersey draped across a chair, his number on a guitar. But perhaps the most profound observation was offered by Lizzo as she accepted her first award of the evening . . .
“This whole week I was lost in my problems, stressed out, and then in an instant all of that can go away and your priorities really shift. Today, all of my little problems that I thought were big as the world were gone, and I realized that there are people hurting right now.”
As I read the tributes and scanned the news releases, there was one that touched me more than any of the others. It came from a father—a father who looked at this tragedy through a different lens. He didn’t see Kobe Bryant the basketball superstar. He didn’t see Kobe Bryant the humanitarian. He saw Kobe Bryant the father. How terrible it would have been if he understood what was happening and knew his daughter was about to die. How hard it would have been to hold her and tell her everything was going to be all right . . . knowing it was not.
Throughout the coverage of this tragedy, several have made a point to remind us that eight other people lost their lives that Sunday morning. Eight other people who were equally loved by those who knew them . . . who together had touched hundreds if not thousands of lives . . . whose deaths left great voids and great grief. Just because their lives were not lived as publicly as Kobe Bryant’s does not mean their loss is not as great. They will simply be mourned in a more private setting, by the people who knew and loved them. Some people belong to their family and their friends and those are the ones who will grieve their loss. Some people belong to the world . . . and it is the world that will grieve for them. Kobe Bryant was one of those people.