Every month, there’s news of a celebrity death. Some hit harder than others. Those are the ones that bombard social media feeds and are the leading stories on entertainment shows like Access Hollywood and local evening news. Others garner brief mentions in the middle or end of the broadcast, if mentioned at all.
Last month, sprawled on my couch, I received a text with a link. Kobe had died in a helicopter crash. I didn’t believe it. It was TMZ, but I did a quick Google search. There were no other hits other than TMZ. None. I dismissed it. That slowly changed when other outlets started to report it, but they all cited TMZ.
I was triggered. I thought of his daughters. You never get over losing a parent, no matter how much time has lapsed, or your age. I spiraled even lower when news hit that his daughter was in the aircraft with him. I know the pain of losing a parent, and a family member whom I considered a sibling.
Years ago, I was a sports fan. I watched with my father and brothers and could name wrestlers, basketball and football players, and the teams they played for. Now, I’m a fairweather fan. I tune in for the Super Bowl—commercials and half-time show, duh. I watch the All-Star games, if I’m aware or remember.
Unless an athlete is a mega-superstar grabbing headlines for good or bad deeds on and off the court or field, or for their love life, I have no idea who they are. Dwayne Wade is often featured in Gabrielle Union’s Instagram posts, and I love that Lebron James speaks out about social injustices and opened up a school. I once sat beside a cute guy, both of us waiting our turns to get our locs retwisted only to find out he played for the Patriots after I left the salon. I’ve attended a handful of Brooklyn Nets games at Barclay Center. Other than the year when they cut and pasted players that I still remembered from the Celtics, I couldn’t name a player on the Nets. Thanks to a friend, I go to the games for the free suite seats. That and the great girl friend date balance out the overpriced chicken tenders and $5 water.
I was in high school when all the hub bub about Kobe skipping college to join the NBA happened. There were think tanks on all networks. One teacher led a class discussion about whether or not teens should be allowed to go pro. We girls swooned that Kobe and mega-popstar Brandy were prom dates. We fawned over his good looks and muscles.
Those were the initial memories that popped into mind with the news of his death. I didn’t know him, and I hesitate to call myself a fan in the traditional sense, even though I was happy for him with his championship wins and his Oscar win last year. I was impressed with Kobe’s foray into the literary world. I gifted his memoir Mamba Mentality to my godson and he posted pages on Instagram. Swoon. Kobe seemed like a great guy even before all the previously unreported or unknown-to-me stories of his philanthropy and love of his daughters poured out from every one but his family, flooding the airwaves and social media. These stories plunged me deeper into grieving for a man I never met. I’m usually only this sad when comedians or authors die.
Unlike being lifelong fans of Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson—a good chunk of their discography lives in my iPod—I couldn’t name a single Nipsey Hussle song. All three of their untimely deaths stopped the world and had telecasted services, which I watched. Even if I hadn’t been working from home, I would’ve watched the memorial service for Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Kobe, his thirteen-year-old daughter and seven other people died a month ago in a helicopter crash, but with yesterday’s memorial service it feels as if the tragedy just happened.
The 2/24/20 date was symbolic of Gianna and Kobe’s jersey numbers and the duration of Kobe and Vanessa’s relationship. Beyoncé sang XO and Halo to start the service. She donned a gold suit and purple nails. I chuckled at her swaying hair, not from her movements, but a blowing fan, like all her performances. Jimmy Kimmel hosted and couldn’t contain his emotion every time he took the stage. He had people greet their neighbor as is done in Catholic mass.
Kudos to Vanessa Bryant for having the strength to stand up to eulogize her daughter and the love of her life. Dressed in black and with her face half-covered by her side-parted hair, she lamented that she’d never get to see her Mandarin-speaking daughter in a wedding dress or become a mother, and that she’d miss the daily morning good-bye kisses before heading to school even if she was asleep and the nightly goodbye kisses.
Before honoring Kobe, she paused, took another deep breath and said, “Now for my soulmate.” She listed his nicknames for her. She would miss his affection. He was romantic and she looked forward to her birthday and Valentine’s Day every year. He gifted her the actual notebook and blue dress Rachel McAdams wore in the movie The Notebook because the reunion scene was his favorite. I was not a fan of the book or movie, but goodness gracious, what a beautiful sentiment.
Vanessa inhaled and looked upward several times to compose herself during the speech. I was shocked when she was announced to take the stage. I was even more shocked that she stood there solo, not even accompanied by her eldest daughter who was there. They shared a giggle once in the audience. I can relate to the experience of delivering the eulogy of a loved one, but I was in a packed church, not packed Staples Center, and my brother stood beside me. Later in the service, the camera caught Beyoncé reaching over from the seat behind to console Vanessa.
It was a nonstop sob fest as other people spoke, like Kobe’s agent, best friend, and godfather to Gianna. Talk about a sucker punch when that was announced. Best friend and goddaughter lost? I don’t know if Alicia Keys’ face strained with concentration or emotion as she read the sheet music and played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a song that Kobe learned to play just for Vanessa. Whew, chile. Christina Aguilera sang Ave Maria. I was spent. I needed a hug. I needed a nap.
There were some chuckle breaks. With a tear-soaked face, Michael Jordan thank-blamed Kobe for turning him into another crying meme, which would replace the original infamous “Michael Jordan crying meme.” Shaq told a story of how Kobe earned his respect when he confronted him: “There’s no ‘I’ in team.” Kobe: “but there’s an M-E in that mother fucker.”
The service was filled with several video and photo montages of Kobe and Gianna. His Oscar-winning short film Dear Basketball was played in its entirety. The camera panned to the audience dozens of times during the two-hour service. There were plenty of athletes that I knew by face, not name, and a spew of celebrities. Some weeping, some wearing sunglasses, all somber. My pop culture obsessed eye caught Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union, Lisa Leslie, Bill Russell, Lamar Odom, Magic and Cookie Johnson, Phil Jackson, Snoop and Shante, Rick Fox, Queen Latifah, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Scottie Pippen, Jason Kidd, Derek Rose, LL Cool J, Paul Pierce, Tony Parker, Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers, Paula Abdul(?), John Sally, Spike Lee. Later on I saw clips of Kim and Kanye West, Kris Jenner, Ciara and Russell Wilson. Kobe’s parents and siblings were in attendance. The biggest shock for me was to see Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, but perhaps he was there because he and Kobe both represented the US in past Olympics.
Kimmel said he struggles to find the silver lining in this tragedy. The unexpected and untimely death may have spurred many to resume muted communication or hug loved ones tighter, but that usually happens after nationwide tragedies. Is that a silver lining? We should be loving on each other in the present on a regular basis already. Kobe’s reach was far and wide. I didn’t know him, but hope that he, his daughter and the other victims rest in eternal peace.