O’ Death

By Matt Harrison

Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash that claimed nine lives. The NBA and the sports world was shocked and depressed as the news reached its many corners. 

It felt right for me to commemorate the day by tuning in to a women’s college basketball game between Oregon and Oregon State. A 22-year-old guard for Oregon, Sabrina Ionescu, was mentored by Bryant. The commentators spoke of how the two stayed in touch as he helped her perfect her playing style. Before the game she was told separate from the team about his passing. She sunk her first shot of the game on a run up jumper for two of her team high 19 points in the afternoon.

I tuned in to the Toronto Raptors game in San Antonio. Marc Gasol won the opening tip for Toronto and Fred VanVleet walked the ball across centre court where he stood and dribbled slowly as the 24 second shot clock expired. The Spurs offered the same nod to the fallen 24 before the game carried on.

“That moment, that made it real” Raptors play-by-play announcer Leo Rautins said of the unifying gestures.

As the game wore on I jumped back and forth between it and the updates breaking on TSN. They showed a tear laden interview with Doc Rivers about the crushing weight of the loss. As the day wore on, countless interviews with athletes from across the league aired, numerous reactions being broadcast live. This heartbreak, this tragedy, it was being mourned in real time across the world.

“This feels like a nightmare,” Dwyane Wade said as he wiped away bitter tears on a video he posted to Instagram last night.

Through our endless social connectivity we shared this misery. By Sunday night, videos began circulating on Youtube of the NBA teams who played on Sunday, each doing something to commemorate Bryant. Trae Young wore the number 8 -Bryant’s original number in the NBA- instead of his typical 11. When the Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams scored a touchdown in the NFL Pro Bowl, he flashed two, then four fingers, twice in a row for the camera.

For most this episode will last as long as the news cycle. For the many who knew him the pain and the journey down this road of sorrow and recovery has only just begun. That is where my thoughts are now. I felt guilty for bearing witness to the agony of his friends in real time. It felt wrong to have a front row view of these people who have just lost a friend, a brother, a mentor. Such is the world of real time tragedy we live in.

The bitter strings of sympathy are woven deep into the fabric of my heart. It is worth nothing, but it is all I have. This horrible day has left me wanting to make no secret of my love for those around me. Perhaps that is the best thing any of us can take away from this tragedy. Life is unrelenting in its warmth and beauty while remaining cold and unpredictable all the while. It does not ask, it simply changes.

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