The reaction to the tragic death of basketball great Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others in a helicopter crash on Friday has been amazing, and overwhelming. The crash, and the reaction to the crash, has been the lead story on many news websites over the past few days, featured even over stories about the spread of coronavirus and coverage of the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.
I’m not an NBA fan, and I didn’t really follow Bryant’s career, so I would not have predicted the outpouring of often emotional responses to Bryant’s death. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has a continuously updated page with links of dozens and dozens of articles giving multiple reactions to the tragedy and Bryant’s death from fans, celebrities, American athletes, international sports stars, cultural figures, politicians, and others, as well as coverage of the crash and stories about other aspects of Bryant’s life. To give you an idea of the depth of the coverage, one of the Times articles posted on the page notes that the chaplain of the United States Senate spoke of the death of Bryant, his daughter, and others in his prayer before the start of yesterday’s impeachment trial proceedings.
Bryant’s legacy is complicated by his criminal case and the perception by some that he was a selfish player, but the reaction to his death shows that, for some people at least, he became a lot more than that. His impact on basketball was undeniable — even now, playground players evidently call out “Kobe!” when a player makes a clutch or seemingly impossible shot — and he obviously was an inspirational figure to his fans. His support for women’s basketball and the WNBA, his outreach and encouragement to fellow athletes in basketball and other sports, his sponsorship of a studio, and his other political and social activities broadened his impact still more. He obviously touched many people in a special way, and the fact that he died young, and in a tragic accident, compounds the impact of his death.
As I read the articles about Kobe Bryant, I found myself wondering how many other sports figures, or cultural figures, or celebrities, would elicit that kind of response. I’m guessing not many.