I’m an Angeleno. A transplant from the East Coast. So was Kobe.
I grew up just outside Baltimore (in the 60’s & early 70’s). My parents were Baltimore Colts season ticket holders. It’s hard to describe what it felt like the night Robert Irsay loaded the team onto moving vans — at two in the morning actually because he hoped to avoid publicity — and drove the franchise halfway across the country to Indianapolis. It felt like a betrayal.
As is often the case with beloved sports teams, Baltimore Colts season tickets were a legacy. You’d let go of your life before you’d let go of the Colts tickets. A woman had the seats directly in front of my parents’ seats. I don’t think they even knew her name but my parents and this woman saw each other and chatted amiably at least seven times a year when the Colts played at home, at Baltimore’s (now gone) Memorial Stadium.
This woman knew her shit about football. She knew stats before people started keeping them. She understood why the team succeeded when it did and why it failed when it did. Her grasp of strategy and tactics and player capabilities was flawless. And then, one Sunday afternoon — she didn’t show for a game. Her two sons did.
This was shocking. The woman had NEVER missed a game — going back years (as far as my parents knew — they were equally religious about THEIR season tickets). My father leaned forward and asked the two boys (they were in their late teens) where there mother was.
“She died yesterday,” they replied. She had cancer. Had been suffering from it for a while and finally succumbed. But — even as she was dying — she told her boys that regardless of how sad or miserable they were feeling, they were NOT letting those tickets go un-used — by them. It was unthinkable to her that death would get in the way of her family getting to a Baltimore Colts game.
Sports have that place in our hearts. Sports heroes become icons of heroism (regardless of the fact that they play a game for a living). We invest a great deal of ourselves in our sports heroes — in their success and their failure. It becomes ours by extension.
I arrived a little late for the Showtime Lakers. They were already a successful unit when I became a Lakers fan. I didn’t get to watch Magic Johnson evolve into one of the most talented basketball players ever. But I did get to watch Magic deal with having AIDS.
That felt a little like a death at the time. It’s a little weird, if you think about it, that Magic is still with us (and thank goodness for that!) — while Kobe isn’t. Here, in Los Angeles, we got to watch a 17 year old, basketball-obsessed kid live up to the unlikely challenge he set for himself: to be better than his idol, Michael Jordan.
We watched Kobe evolve from that brash ball hog into a guy his own teammates wanted to have the ball at the end of the game. There are no guarantees in sports, but Kobe had a remarkable knack for making impossible shit happen.
Then Kobe bumped into his own fame. In a Colorado hotel room, he confused being loved by the public with getting to do whatever he wanted. He pushed himself sexually on a woman.
It’s what Kobe did afterward that cemented his legacy. He grew up. He became a better husband to his wife. He became a great dad to his kids. He was on his way — with daughter Gigi — to a basketball game where Gigi would play and Kobe would coach. He loved coaching his daughter’s team. Loved coaching her.
He championed the WNBA — and saw his daughter playing there and owning the league. Who knows what other great ideas and plans and goals Kobe might have achieved? Who knows what Gigi would have become?
Who knows what the other seven people on that helicopter — the Altobelli’s, the pilot, Christina Mauser (another youth basketball coach who was on the flight) — would have done with their lives? The tragedy of that crash will rippled across multiple families and lives.
It’s understood — we lost 9 good people yesterday. Kobe was the best known of them. But Kobe had become more than just another sports hero to us. He’d become a vital member of our community (here in LA and in the wider world). He saw his purpose as making the world a better place for as many people as he could. He was well on his way to become every bit the storyteller as he was a basketball god.
It really does feel like a family member suddenly died. There’s a hole now — in the day, in our feelings, in our sense of the future and what it should be. It’s been compromised by a helicopter accident.
Maybe the best takeaway we can hope for is a reminder to live life to its fullest because, for real — literally anything can happen.