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Kobe Bryant and the Return to Normalcy in the NBA

Kobe Bryant’s tragic death has been shaking the sports world for the last few days, since he was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday. Count me in as someone who didn’t think he would be affected by this. A huge sports fan sure, but Kobe was not an idol of mine and someone that I thought of seldomly.

But wherever I’ve gone and whatever I’ve been doing the last few days, life has not been the same. There hasn’t been the same spark or light as before, aside from the fact that it is January. And the sports world felt Kobe’s tragic passing in a far more personal way.

Many teams had tributes by allowing the 24-second shot clock to expire, as well as taking 8-second violations in honor of the two numbers Kobe wore in his career.

The Grizzlies and Suns game was just one example of this as the Pelicans-Celtics and many other games around the league paid tribute this way.

There were also tearful interviews post-game with players who grew up admiring and wanting to play like Kobe. Many said they started playing basketball because of Kobe.

But maybe even more emotional and cathartic was seeing the way Lakers fans and the city of LA took the news. Mourners started to congregate at the Staples Center to remember Kobe, and even catching a glimpse of “the arena that Kobe built” seemed to provide closure. It was if everyone assumed he just lived there, given the amount of time he spent there and the countless memories the fans shared with him in that building.

Players were visibly shaken up in post-game interviews, and the idea was floated out there that the rest of the day’s games would be cancelled, although they went on as scheduled.

What did end up happening is that the Lakers-Clipper’s game last night was cancelled.

What all of this underscored was how, with a score of celebrity deaths in the past year or two, this one felt different. For whatever reason, this one hit home. Kobe didn’t feel like someone who could die, he seemed like the closest thing to a god that the modern-day NBA had to offer. An untouchable person that’s limits knew no bounds.

He seemed to possess the fatherly figure persona of David Ortiz in baseball, where no matter how close anyone in the league was with him, past or present player, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if they had met twice or 200 times, or if they had never spoken. There was a shared admiration and respect, but also a sense that he was looking out for all of them simultaneously, and no matter how young or unheralded or raw, he had a willingness to impart some wisdom in all of them.

From Jayson Tatum to Trae Young, they all have their own stories of how he impacted them.

Aside from that, the other tragic part was that this was the newest chapter in Kobe’s life. Having retired in 2016 and having probably spent very little time with his family during his career, he was finally ready to be a dad to his four girls and be present in their lives. He was active as a coach to his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was also killed in the crash. And he was building a business, that had created his Emmy-winning digital short “Dear Basketball” shortly after retiring.

What was clear was that Kobe was going to be a success regardless of what he did and regardless of what turns his life was going to take. He was going to bring that same fearlessness and competitive drive to everything that he did, and demand nothing but perfection from himself and those he worked with.

And what still remains clear is that the NBA will not forget Kobe, not this year or any year after. Not the Lakers, not Lebron, not the city of LA. He will continue to inspire them and wanna-be hoopers worldwide.

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