When Princess Diana died on August 31, 1997, I was 16 years old. In the time after that, I saw how much people grieved although I couldn’t quite understand why. It’s not like people really knew her. She was basically a celebrity. How could you feel grief for someone you hadn’t ever met or really even known?
Last Sunday, at 11:32 am, I received a text from my mom in our family group chat that said “Breaking news. Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter accident. Not 100% confirmed yet.”
I could feel the chills immediately take over my body. I did what I normally do when I hear a big piece of news. I start researching to find out if it’s true and what sources it came from. Obviously, there have been hoaxes before and I was hoping this was just another one. But as the day went on, the news was confirmed.
We were completely immersed in our personal family events that day so I didn’t really have time to process what had happened. The more we learned though, the more real it became. And when I went home that evening and finally had a quiet moment to myself, I felt it.
I don’t quite understand why I felt grief. I didn’t know Kobe Bryant other than he played for my absolutely favorite team on the planet. I never met him. I’m not very star stuck and am not really interested in meeting celebrities in general. With all of the drama and problems that Kobe had gone through and with the ego he had on him, I honestly didn’t really care to meet him.
So why? Why did I feel this way?
The best answer I can give is because we grew up together. I watched the Lakers from when I was a child but the Showtime era started before I was old enough to be a fan. I remember hearing about Magic Johnson’s HIV announcement and all of the questions that came with it at the time. I remember Johnson making a comeback and getting cut while playing and all of the players freaking out because he was bleeding on the court.
But Kobe, he came to the Lakers right after high school. Being only 3 years younger meant I was also in high school. I watched him learn how to play NBA basketball. I criticized what I thought were his stupid decisions (like marrying Vanessa at the age of 23 and having the power struggle with Shaq and Phil). I wondered as he went through his sexual assault case, wanting to defend him because he was a Laker but knowing full well that it was possible that he wasn’t innocent and that I would always side with the victim. I judged how long he stayed in the league and how he was drawing all resources to himself so we couldn’t put a decent team on the floor to win 3 more championships.
Then, he retired. I can honestly say I didn’t follow him so much after he was off the court as I did when he was on the court. I didn’t even know he made a movie until he won as Oscar. But when he did win it, I was proud like it was my friend that had won.
He was like that friend that you don’t see often or even talk to often, but when you do, it’s like nothing has ever changed. He would always be a part of our lives because he was a Laker. He was part of the purple and gold that runs in the undercurrents of Los Angeles.
It’s complicated. I know there are things he’s done that were wrong but I also believe that he learned how to change for the better. The more I learn about him now, the more I believe he might be someone I would have wanted to meet as an adult. He had drive, passion, and ambition. He was doing exactly what we all do with our kids every day, take them to their extracurricular activities and watch and support them.
The only way I can describe what I feel is grief. Grief over seeing someone I grew up with gone. Grief over seeing someone who was finding his new path gone. Grief over someone who had changed the history of our city gone.
I still have trouble believing it. I don’t know if I ever will.