Where do I start?
I had just begun driving my partner’s car, looking down at my phone for directions as we set off to run some errands early Sunday afternoon.
“Sister Bear,” the endearing contact name I have for my sister, appeared on my screen.
I ignored the call, more worried about missing a turn en route to our destination. She immediately called back.
I answered and quickly said I would call her back, that I was driving but she interjected and asked if I was doing alright, had I heard the news? I was confused, and then she said that TMZ had just reported Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash.
I refused to believe it.
TMZ has broken stories in the past but I rushed to look for verification from a more reputable news agency (no offense, TMZ). I had heard rumours the TMZ Twitter account was hacked, I held onto any hope a hero of mine, a basketball idol was still alive.
As the minutes passed, any hope I had slowly faded. A pit in my stomach grew. Reports began to come in that there were no survivors and I prayed that Kobe wasn’t with his family. The first number I saw about the number of people who died was five, then it rose to nine.
Then I found out he was with his daughter, Gianna.
My heart aches for all of the families and friends of the nine victims: Kobe and Gianna Bryant; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan.
I’ve never been a person who dealt well with death and have experienced a lot of loss in recent years. One of the things that especially got to me were the deaths of the three young girls in the helicopter.
With so much life ahead of them, it was suddenly cut short. My youngest brother is 14, a freshman in high school back home in Montana. I can’t even fathom how I would feel if I lost him or anyone in my family for that matter.
So again, I’d like to say my prayers and condolences go out to the families of all those involved. Although, I understand there is nothing I could say, at this moment, that could help ease the pain.
I’ve been a Los Angeles Lakers fan for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Montana, a state with no professional sports teams, we are afforded the lucky ability to have our pick of the litter when it comes to whom we devote our fandom to.
My dad was a Lakers fan and it felt right to root for the purple and gold along with him. Even despite the storied success and history of the Lakers, I thought rooting for them as a kid was against the mainstream given the dominance and popularity of Michael Jordan and the ‘90s Chicago Bulls.
Playing basketball in the driveway as a youngster, I mimicked too many players to count but none more than my man, Kobe Bryant. Not a lot of people pronounced the “L” in my name anyway, so sometimes I thought my name was “Kobe.”
I remember one of the very first NBA games I went to as a kid was to see the Lakers with my family in Portland versus the Trailblazers. We found out where the Lakers team hotel was and went to see if we could score some autographs as they were walking onto the team bus.
If I remember correctly, one of the few autographs we got was from Lakers forward Mark Madsen, but not Kobe or Shaq. Yet, to stand just mere feet from a player who I thought was a basketball God was good enough for me.
Over the years, I was blessed to see Kobe play almost 10 times. I’ve seen him miss game-winning shots and terrorize defenses with his arsenal of seemingly endless offensive moves.
Kobe played with a fierceness and tenacity that was unrivaled and inspired a generation of basketball players across the world. He certainly inspired me as a competitor and a basketball player. If there was something to win, you bet I would try my damndest to win it.
He expected the most of his teammates, often pushing them so hard he drove them away. I’ve heard and read countless stories of his 3:00 and 4:00 a.m. workouts or telling other players on the team they were, “soft like Charmin.”
As a competitor, you have to respect his drive, his resolve and his perseverance.
The man tore his achilles and returned to the court to shoot his two free throws, making both. He had a partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder during a game and proceeded to play left-handed. Dwyane Wade broke his nose in the All-Star game and Kobe applauded him.
Kobe made the most difficult shots look so easy, the best tough-shot maker I’ve ever seen. His name is synonymous when shooting things into the trash can. The funny part is, even if you missed, you could shrug it off, pick up the trash and shoot it again. Because that’s what Kobe would do.
Nobody is perfect. Not even Kobe. There is no glossing over the sexual assault case made against him in 2003. The two are forever linked and you can’t discuss his legacy without mentioning it.
Admittedly, as an 11-year-old kid, I was a denier; not fully understanding the gravity of the situation. Looking back, I know now that I was wrong to think that way. That’s what happens with time — people grow, circumstances change, point of views shift.
I don’t condone what happened in that hotel room and think survivors of sexual assault deserve our support and belief when they come forward. At the same time, I don’t believe that should define Kobe’s legacy or his character. As I said, that case and Kobe are inextricably linked.
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We can let people grieve the loss of someone who touched countless lives and still support survivors. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. The world is a messy place and our feelings aren’t always black and white. It’s okay to be conflicted.
At the end of the day, what happened is between Kobe and Creator.
In the words of Kobe himself, “It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you — or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.”
And I don’t think he took it lightly. I was proud to see his transformation after his playing career, immersing himself in his family and being a great father to his daughters. After years of sacrifice and time away from those he loved most, he was reaping the benefits of all his hard work.
To have him die so suddenly, at the age of 41, is probably what shakes us most. It reminds us of the fragility of life, that we never truly know if today could be our last. There was so much fanfare about LeBron passing Kobe on the all-time scoring list the night before the helicopter crash and I remember seeing Kobe’s congratulatory tweet; the last thing that ever thought would be that my favorite basketball player ever would be dead the next morning.
Yet, here I am, along with millions reflecting on the life of an individual I never met but had a large impact on my life.
Most of the day Sunday I was just in shock, I didn’t really know how to react or when the emotions would hit me. For the most part, I stayed off social media to avoid tributes that I knew would stir something up.
Then, sitting on my couch at home later in the evening, I clicked on what was the opening for the GRAMMY awards and Alicia Keys said a few words to the audience before she began to sing. Not even three seconds into her rendition of, “It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” tears were streaming down my face and I quickly exited the video.
On Monday night, ESPN announced they were going to re-air Kobe’s last game against the Utah Jazz where he dropped 60 points, I knew I needed to watch. I don’t have cable but being the huge fan of the Mamba I am, I watched the game on ESPN3 — in Spanish.
It didn’t matter to me. I just needed to see #24 ball one more time.
So thank you, Kobe.
Thank you for giving us your all.
Thank you for the memories.
I’ve bought your shoes, rocked your jerseys and cheered from afar. I was looking forward to your enshrinement speech at the NBA Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts and it breaks my heart to know you won’t be giving it.
I hope you’re balling with the legends up in heaven, Lord knows you’ll give ‘em your best shot.
Ultimately, life goes on, why not live it in the words of the Mamba himself?
“Have a good time. Life is 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.
Rest in peace Kobe, Gianna, John, Keri, Alyssa, Sarah, Payton, Christina and Ara.
Kolby KickingWoman is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today. He is Blackfeet/Gros Ventre from the great state of Montana and currently reports and lives in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter - @KDKW_406. Email - firstname.lastname@example.org
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