BEAIRD: The loss of a legend

Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. We lost a legend.

I will never forget where I was when I heard the news. I was just barely getting ready to start my day after a late night of studying. As I began to wake myself up on the couch in my small dorm room, I heard the news. A swarm of Twitter notifications, and I’m already texting my brothers, “Guys, oh my God. Kobe Bryant died.” These things never seem real.

Kobe Bryant was among the nine passengers who were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Bryant was on his way to a youth basketball game with one of his daughters, Gianna, when the helicopter crashed.

Whatever you remember him for, you can’t deny that Kobe Bryant was a legend — in every sense of the word. Whether it be for his five championships, hundreds of 40-point-plus games or the fact that during his last game before retirement, he came back and scored 60 points — and that’s barely scratching the surface. 

Even for people who don’t follow basketball, he defined a generation that shouts “Kobe!” when shooting garbage into a trash can. And, as silly as it seems, you really did feel like Kobe any time a crumpled-up napkin sank perfectly into that bucket. 

My family has been following Kobe Bryant for as long as I can remember. Ever since I was a kid growing up in Portland, Oregon, and rooting for the Trail Blazers, my brother recalled the days he spent shooting hoops in the rain reenacting Brandon Roy and Kobe Bryant buzzer-beaters. 

The “Mamba mentality” only grew for my family when we moved to Southern California and got to be there to experience the last five years of his NBA career. But Bryant wasn’t just a world-class, astonishing athlete. He was an inspiration for us all. 

There are new record-breaking athletes every year, but the world might not ever see another one like Kobe. The man carried an unbeatable mindset as if nothing could stop him when he got the ball. He inspired every young basketball player to get a taste of that infectious “Mamba mentality.”

And his influence didn’t stop at basketball. Bryant was a generation-defining figure who made creative efforts through many different platforms, most notably his media company, Granity Studios. He even won an Oscar for his 2017 film “Dear Basketball,” in which he reads a love letter to the sport that “gave a 6-year-old boy his Laker dream.”

The hardest part is knowing that we won’t be seeing any more from Bryant. 

He was a great father to his four daughters. After retirement, Bryant said stopped watching basketball — until his daughter Gianna expressed an interest in playing in the WNBA. From there, Kobe would break the game down to her, coach girls basketball and start Mamba Sports Academy for young athletes like her.

No greater pain was felt after Bryant’s death than in the city of Los Angeles. Fans flooded LA Live, the space outside of the Staples Center where the Los Angeles Lakers play. Thousands gathered to mourn the loss of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others who died in the tragic helicopter crash. 

Words are never enough for times like this. Whenever the world loses iconic figures like Kobe, everyone stops to reflect on their lives. Realistically, that is the best thing we can do.

I’m reminded of how the city of Minneapolis reacted to the passing of Prince back in 2016. Of course, there were countless tears, but also a massive celebration of life.

So how do we process all this? The same way. While there’s never a wrong way to grieve the death of someone, don’t just dwell on it — celebrate life. Hold your loved ones close and recognize the legends in your life. Keep taking your trash can shots and shouting “Kobe!” Because legends never die. 

And in the words of Kobe, from a 2008 interview for CBS: “Have a good time. Enjoy life. … Life’s too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.”

This story was written by Joseph Beaird. He can be reached at joseph.beaird@marquette.edu.