I Was Surprised I Cried When Kobe Died

Black Mamba’s death one year ago today prepared the world for the pandemic

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Los Angeles mural “Energy Never Dies” by @paintedprophet

I was sitting in a crowded coffee shop in Providence, R.I., when my baby brother texted me the news. Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, had died in a helicopter crash on a foggy Sunday morning.

My reaction was immediate, visceral. I began to shake. My eyes, milky with tears, became fixed on a shelf stocked with fancy teas. I needed to focus. Anything to not cry the ugly cry in the middle of a tiny coffee shopped surrounded by loudly chattering Brown University students.

Somehow, I managed. Sobs struggling to make their way from the pit of my stomach choked in my throat.

“I don’t know why I feel so emotional,” I told the friend seated across from me. “It’s not as if I was a huge Kobe fan, or even a huge basketball fan.”

Hapless, my friend left to grab me a refill. Grateful, I cupped the hot caffeine and sipped slowly.

I never saw Kobe play live. Two years before he died in the helicopter crash, I was in the audience when he participated in a panel discussion following a screening of Oscar-nominated short films. His film, Dear Basketball, was nominated for Best Animated Short. After watching all of the films, I had decided that another selection was my favorite.

A few days after he died, I returned to Los Angeles, where I live. There was no getting away from Kobe—or the immeasurable grief I had tried to keep at a safe distance when I first learned of his death. Murals had sprung up all over the city like bright bouquets festooning an altar. City buses announced his death in illuminated letters that replaced the destination and route numbers.

And it wasn’t just in Los Angeles. The entire world, from Japan to Jamaica, was caught up in a wave of collective grief.

When Covid-19 hit the following month, suddenly it all made sense to me. The mourning that had woven the world into a quilt of honor upon Kobe’s death was now blanketing all of us, basketball fans or not. The loss that we felt was a foreshadowing of the innumerable losses—400,000 and counting in the United States alone, 2.14 million and counting worldwide— we would suffer through, breathe through.

Kobe, famous for acrobatics on the court, had performed the most daring feat of them all: He laid the groundwork for us to come together, to feel, to grieve. Let’s not make his sacrifice in vain. Let’s honor him by stopping the carnage.

Wear a mask.

Author of SACRED LANDSCAPES of the SOUL: ALIGNING WITH THE DIVINE WHEREVER YOU ARE (2020) and the blog “A Life is God Writ Large.” karenbrailsford.com

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