Kobe Bryant, 2 years later
I just saw the statue at the crash site. Virtually every time I see such a thing, the first thought is “They really couldn’t find an artist who could make the statue look like the people involved?” The faces are not even close to Kobe and his daughter. The thought, I have to tell myself in such moments, it’s the thought that counts. Perhaps better this way, because if the likeness was too close, it would be too much to look at that object and remember what happened.
Here’s something I wrote about their deaths just afterward—unfortunately, behind a paywall. I am permitted to share with other scholars who need it for research purposes—if you are one of those, and for the record, your word is all the verification needed, let me know and I’ll email you the pdf.
I consider myself almost entirely free of celebrity culture—at least as unencumbered by it as any other person I know. Mostly, this has to do with my age—too old and short of free time to watch TV or pay any attention to the other sources of information about which star I ought to be worshiping today. All the pop and movie and television stars from my youth are dead now, or in their 60s or older and so distant physically from the people I saw on the screen as a kid that they scarcely seem the same person at all. My older daughter will sometimes refer to someone she thinks I ought to know who is in movies or on the radio these days and I have a stock expression I give her to let her know wordlessly that this is once again someone I’ve never heard of, sorry.
But I was an unabashed, shameless Kobe fan. I played basketball a lot as a kid. Though I’m nearing retirement age now and haven’t played even a serious pickup game in a long time, I still watch students play on the campus where I teach and think “I know I could get right to the position in the post that I wanted to with any of those guys defending me and post their little butt up and get exactly the shot I wanted.” I lived in southern California when KB was at the start of his professional career and watched him do fantastic things on a nightly basis. The Lakers won the first of their three titles during that early 2000s run while I was there, and Kobe was the most exciting player on that team. You couldn’t be there and not love that kid. Or maybe you could. I couldn’t.
Later the sexual assault charge happened, and that certainly complicated things a bit. He came out of it apparently innocent of any criminal conduct, though guilty of a grave moral transgression that he acknowledged. He became an even greater player. I never felt more Olympic pride for my country than when he led the US men’s team to gold in 2008, beating an excellent Spanish team in the title game single-handedly with a fourth period closeout for the ages.
He died too young and horribly, alongside his child and numerous friends and their children. It was my own daughter, only a few years older than his, who first saw the news in our house and informed me. I think of him knowing that helicopter is going down while his baby is sitting beside him, and knowing he can’t do anything to save her, and I wonder how anyone can believe that any amount of money or power or fame makes us impervious to suffering.
In my entire adult life, I don’t believe I’ve been more moved by the death of someone who was not a member of my family or a close friend.