THE PASSING OF AN ALL-TIME GREAT
By BRANDON HURLEY
The world tragically came to a halt Sunday.
As an NBA fan, I wasn’t entirely sure how to summarize my feelings in the moments following Kobe Bryant’s passing. Time needed to pass in order for proper persepective to take shape. Landscape-altering events can’t be processed quickly. My views throughout Kobe’s career were complicated.
But, he emulated so many incredible things. He was a basketball genius, on and off the court. He evolved into one of the more adaptive athletes I’ve seen in my 30 years of living. His famous competitive streak was the calling card of his career, only matched by Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, formulating a success-hungry trio we may never see again.
Beyond that, the LA Laker legend was loyal (he spent 20 years with the same team) and recently showed an adorable love for his children’s growth and his own role as a parent.
The devastating loss was sudden and shocking, an absolute basketball legend gone much too soon.
My immediate reaction to Sunday’s news was a feeling of disappointment. Not in Kobe or the pilot or anyone else involved with the crash – it certainly was a complete accident – but as several people have alluded to over the last few days, Kobe’s second act was just beginning. A heap of great potential left untapped.
We were blessed with only momentary glimpses into his incredible basketball mind. He had so much to share with the world gained from a lifetime of high-level basketball. Would have he become one of the greatest basketball philosophers we’ve ever known? Or was he going to become a legendary coach, propping up his daughters, or perhaps use his knowledge and understanding of the game to work in an NBA front office? There was a stockpile of untapped genius left, which makes it so hard to swallow.
The other pain-staking wrinkle that makes this situation so tragic is Kobe’s 13-year old daughter, Gianna, who also died in the helicopter crash. I can’t even began to imagine what it’s like to lose your child, but to die along with him or her at such a young age, that makes it even more devastating.
It was weird and eerie watching basketball Sunday after news of Bryant’s death broke. The players showed little excitement, and even the fans weren’t as typically raucous. The broadcasters came back to the sad tragedy over and over. It was a surreal moment in time that many will never forget.
The Nick Nurse-led Toronto Raptors were one of the first teams to take the court immediately following news of Bryant’s death. They chose to honor the future Hall of Famer with a 24-second shot clock violation to begin their game against the Spurs. Bryant wore the number 24 for much of his career. That and the number 8 are both retired by the Lakers. Nurse is a Carroll native in his second year as head man in Toronto. The defending NBA champion, who’s rarely ever at a loss for words, had trouble putting things into perspective.
“It was a rough, rough, really rough locker room after the game,” Nurse said in his post game press conference. “A lot of guys it hit pretty close to home. Obviously, one of the biggest stars of the game.
You don’t know what to say, I’ve never gone through something like this. I just kind of said, let’s go and see what happens. It certainly wasn’t a high energy place before the game.”
The adjustment to the job at hand wasn’t easy, Nurse said. The news was still trickling out when the Raptors and Spurs tipped, and a lot of questions were still left unanswered. Today’s generation of players grew up watching and idolizing Bryant, so the grim reaction was warranted. It took a little bit to find a groove, Nurse said. Nurse won the 1985 state basketball title as a member of the Kuemper Catholic Knights. He’s been in some high pressure games all over the world, but nothing like Sunday compared.
“I think both teams got lost in the game,” the coach said. “Usually, I’m pretty good when the ball goes up. But it probably took me eight or nine minutes. I was trying to be as supportive to everybody out there, from the players to the table to the refs, everything. Then you kind of do lose yourself in the game.”
Basketball has always been my true love. I was drawn to the beauty of the NBA game. Kobe shining in his first All Star game appearance back in the late 90s dances vividly in my mind. Bryant was never my favorite player, nor was he in my yearly top five of favorites, but boy, could he ball. He really understood the game and pushed to get better. He didn’t just play, he wanted to be the best. I absolutely admire that. I may not have always liked the guy, but his passion and dedication were hard to ignore. His greatness required appreciation.
Kobe’s mountain of achievements and milestones are endless.
He was the guy who took the torch from Michael Jordan. Bits and pieces stick out from MJ’s last season in Chicago in 1998, but Kobe’s career blossomed in front of me. His talent and ability to achieve his greatest dreams impacted millions of people all over the world. He was a bonafide rockstar in China, and the way he molded his game, pushing to become the greatest, captivated even the most casual of fans.
Bryant’s career hits home right here in Jefferson, too. Greene County activities director Todd Gordon is a long-time Lakers fan. He was just as taken aback as anyone upon hearing Sunday’s dreaded news. He shared his thoughts Monday on Facebook:
“I was stunned yesterday when I heard the news that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash,” Gordon said. “... I can’t really put a finger on why it had the affect on me that it did. I have always been a fan of the NBA and a life long Laker fan. Maybe it’s because I watched Kobe for his entire career and watched him evolve into into one of the all-time greats.”
Gordon nailed Kobe’s impact on the game and with his fans. As I matured, my dislike for Kobe transformed into a remarkable respect for his craft. He’s the guy I remember re-shaping the NBA while simultaneously crushing my dreams as a young Kings fan. As a fan, he’s the guy that I grew up with. That Lakers dynasty led by Kobe and Shaq stood in the way of my favorite teams, most notably the Kings and Blazers. Kobe was an assassin during a time when the League was starving for an icon. He propped up an entire generation.
“He matured on and off the court, was an inspiration and mentor to many of the current NBA players but was also a loving father who helped coach his daughter’s teams as well,” Gordon continued with his Facebook message. “His work ethic was legendary and he no doubt earned the right to be called one of the best in NBA history.”
What I admired most about Kobe was his willingness to change his game. He became such an incredible shooter over the tail-end of his career, honing his craft with a breath-taking fadeaway he could hit from any angles. That’s when the second-coming of MJ really began to take shape. No shot was too difficult. He willed many ho-hum rosters to victory.
The images Kobe left are long lasting. It’s a sad week in the sports world, igniting one of those moments where we all need to reflect. I spent about half an hour this weekend showing my 10-year old son highlights. The airwaves were filled with the news.
Bryant’s death immediately took me back to a few years ago to his retirement.
What stood out most in Kobe’s final game was how poorly the game began, only for him to turn it into a fairytale finish. He not only missed his first five shots, but they were complete bricks. Thankfully, that did not foreshadow the rest of his performance. He went on to drop 60 points in his last night wearing the iconic purple and gold. What a moment, and what a capper to a career. It was hard to look away. A special performance, something we’ll never forget. Sometimes, good or bad, sports surprise us. Bryant was on both ends of the spectrum. We were blessed.
Gordon closed out his Facebook thoughts Monday with a wonderful sentiment. Bryant’s death transcends sports. It’s a tragic example of the lives we lead. We can have so much one moment, then watch it disappear the next. Bryant set the bar for a generation of future ballers. He’ll be missed.
“Life is fleeting. Today is a gift,” Gordon said. “Don’t take it for granted. Embrace whatever lies ahead of you today.”