Updated: Aug 23
Photo by Dia Miller
There was a somberness that filled the air at Staples Center Tuesday evening. The streets were shut down, and filled with crowds of people decked out in purple and gold with “Bryant” emblazoned across their backs. Balloons, flowers, newspapers with his face across the front, heartfelt letters of condolence, of tribute, of thanks for what he did, who he was and how he changed lives lined the guard rails.
There were bursts of cheers and applause, “Kobe! Kobe!” could be heard all around. I followed the noise to a small basketball hoop, the kind you'd hang on the back of your bedroom door as a kid. It had been hung on top of one of the make-shift memorial walls. Around it was a crowd of people, cheering on a little girl with a basketball in her hands. "GiGi! GiGi!" the crowd shouted over and over as she tried to make a basket. She missed and the ball was tossed back to her. She missed again, and once again, the ball was returned to her. She shot it a third time and the ball swooshed into the net. The crowd around erupted into shouts and applause.
Over and over, one by one, people took their shot with the little basketball. Most missed. And every time the ball was sent sailing back into their hands, and they were given a second chance. Sometimes a third, fourth or fifth, as many chances as it took to make the basket.
A young girl took her shot and missed twice running off to her mom, tears flowing down her cheeks. A stranger from the crowd stepped forward as the crowd burst into chants again, "GiGi! GiGi!" The woman approached the little girl and said, "Nope, not tonight. Tonight we don't quit. Tonight everyone makes a basket." The stranger picked up the little girl and carried her to the rim. Cheers and applause rang out again as the girl dropped the ball into the basket.
I stood in the middle of that crowd, watching this scene unfold in front of me, wearing my Portland Trail Blazers sweatshirt in the sea of Lakers attire, and yet I felt a comradery like I’ve never experienced with Lakers fans.
I’ve been cheering for the Blazers for over 30 years. When Kobe entered the league and became a Laker, he was introduced to me as a villain and he quickly became the ultimate villain. He wore purple and gold and had all the talent in the world. But he wasn’t on my team, so he was the enemy. As my love for basketball has grown over the years, I’ve come to appreciate a talented player, regardless of the color of their jersey or the city they represent.
On Sunday, Jan. 26, we lost a legend. Kobe Bryant was among the best to ever play the game of basketball. He had talent, drive, dedication, and heart.
That same evening, the Trail Blazers took on the Indiana Pacers in what felt like an incredibly heavy and important game. Not for the score, or the fight for the finals, but for Kobe. Moda Center erupted in cheers for the man who had always been the most formidable of opponents. He was someone we all loved to hate. “Everybody felt a way today,” Damian Lillard said after the game. “But we had to carry on, so I think that was the right decision for us to go out there and compete in his honor.”
The Blazers will be the first to step foot in the Staples Center since Bryant’s accident. It seems fitting since LA and Portland have such a long-standing history of rivalry. When Bryant retired in 2016, he said about the Blazers, “I’m going to miss loving the fact that you hate me.”
But I expect this game to be different. Because really, this is bigger than rivalries or feuds. This is bigger than basketball. The world has lost a legend. But the NBA has lost a family member.
Carmelo Anthony, a long time close friend of Bryant and a current Trail Blazer, posted an emotional tribute to Bryant on Instagram. “There are moments in life when there’s simply NO words to describe the pain within. This is one of them. YOU will continue to be loved. YOU will be missed. YOU will forever be remembered. YOUR legacy will live on FOREVER. OUR FRIENDSHIP will never be forgotten. I know YOU will be near, even if I don’t see YOU. PEACE KING!!! “There are no goodbyes. Wherever you’ll be you’ll be in our hearts.”
This tragedy has been felt around the world. Bryant’s former teammate and dear friend, Shaquille O’Neal, described it best when he said “I haven’t felt a pain that sharp in a while.. it definitely changes me.” It’s changed all of us. But It has also brought a nation together. In a time of great division, it has reminded us that we don’t have to be divided. Today we mourn the loss of Kobe Bryant, a basketball legend, a role model, a coach, a friend, a husband, a girl dad. We mourn the loss of Gianna Bryant, a young girl full of life, full of joy, following in her father's footsteps.
We also mourn the loss of 7 others who are not so often mentioned by name. We mourn the loss of 38-year-old Christina Mauser, a wife and mother of 3. We mourn the loss of Sarah and Payton Chester, a mother and daughter who left behind a husband and two sons. We mourn the loss of John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, a father, mother, and daughter who left behind two more children. And finally, we mourn the loss of the pilot, Ara Zobayan, who was trained and skilled in flying helicopters.
Tragedies are never easy. The loss of someone who appeared to be indestructible, someone we thought would live forever, and someone who has influenced so many is a difficult blow. For 20 years Kobe Bryant was apart of our lives and now, suddenly he’s been ripped away. We said goodbye once in 2016 when he played his final season in the NBA. We didn’t expect that we’d be forced to say such a final goodbye once again just four years later. Their families have lost loved ones, and the world has lost a legend, but his legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of those who loved him. And those who “loved to hate” him.
Photo by Marcus Smith
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