It’s very seldom that a person’s untimely demise can spark so much shock and grief among millions of people not only in one country but all over the world.
That rare occasion started to happen three days ago when basketball fans across the planet were jolted at the tragic news that the legendary Kobe Bryant is gone – killed in a helicopter crash that also took the life of his teenage daughter Gianna and seven others.
From all over the United States to Italy where Kobe grew up, to China and the rest of Asia and elsewhere, the collective sense of loss reverberated and the outpouring of grief was instantaneous. And I’m sure millions of Filipinos in this basketball-crazy country of ours also woke up in utter shock and disbelief to the very sad news of the tragedy that befell one of the greatest NBA players of all time.
In Metro Manila, landmarks were lighted in Kobe’s colors to pay tribute. The Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City turned purple. The Uptown Mall in Bonifacio Global City flashed Kobe’s name and jersey number in purple and gold. So did the giant globe at the SM Mall of Asia.
In the US, grief was all over in Los Angeles where people looked up to Kobe as their hero for devoting all his 20 years as a professional player for the Lakers. “They cried in bars and churches, on street corners and golf courses and basketball courts. Restaurants closed Sunday night to honor his memory, and people placed basketballs outside their front doors, like flags at half staff,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.”
Kobe was indeed a hero – on and off the basketball court. Together with wife Vanessa, Kobe set up a charity foundation “to improve the lives of youth and families in need, both domestically and globally.” During a visit to a children’s hospital in 2006, Kobe explained his charity work: “It’s a blessing because you have an opportunity to do something like this beyond basketball… We all have God-given gifts and abilities. To be able to do something like this creates a sense of purpose. It’s more than just playing basketball...it’s kind of using it for a greater good.”
But in was in basketball that Kobe was mesmerizing. His terrific shooting and ferocity in many memorable NBA games attracted a global following that saw the most awesome and inspiring heroics in basketball.
“There were spectacular nights but nothing topped his 81-point effort against the Toronto Raptors on January 22, 2006, a mark surpassed only by Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in 1962,” according to an AFP report on Monday.
“Bryant scored 65 points in a 2007 win over Portland, then followed with 50 points against Minnesota, 60 at Memphis and 50 more against New Orleans — the third-longest run of 50-point games in NBA history behind two from Chamberlain.”
All in all, Kobe had accumulated 33,643 points, 7,047 rebounds and 6,306 assists over 1,346 career games during his breathtaking journey to five NBA championships.
But the beginning of his journey to greatness wasn’t all bliss. In Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Western Conference Finals at Utah, Kobe had four air balls in the late stages of a 98-93 loss. Many promising players would have been destroyed by such awful performance. But not Kobe; after that game, he went to a basketball court to perfect his jump shots until the sun rose the following morning.
It was Kobe’s determination, tenacity, toughness and all other attributes of a great champion that brought him redemption and enabled him to be part of the most uplifting stories basketball has ever given the world.