The death of a legend


Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/TNS

A figure of Kobe Bryant peers above candles at a memorial for the Lakers star at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 29, 2020.

Valerie Keys, Managing Editor

Less than two weeks following the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others, the nation remains in shock. Sunday, Jan. 26 is a day that I will never forget. I was laying on my couch, pretending to do homework when my roommate sent me a text reading, “Dude. Kobe Bryant Died.”

As a digital native, my first instinct was to be in disbelief. Every couple of months or so, the false death of a celebrity makes rounds and has to be debunked by the world’s most reliable news source, Twitter. I frantically ran to my computer to investigate and essentially found nothing. It was 2:40 p.m. and the only information that I could find was from TMZ.

What seemed like seconds later, I was refreshing the page and saw CNN, MSNBC, ESPN and a slew of other outlets sighting the sleazy tabloid. It was at that moment that all of my college research training was being tested. TMZ is not a reliable source, so why is everyone quoting them? The only liable solution was because they were right.

I have never been a sports fan. I tune in when my family’s favorite teams play or during the big championship games, but I have never had a real connection to sports. Despite my lack of general interest, as a card-carrying member of the Black community, I have always been well aware of the impact made by exceptional athletes. To some it may seem trivial, but to us, it is our history. It is Black history.

I was there with all of the other kids shooting paper balls into the trash can shouting “Kobe!” I remember hearing about his retirement in 2016 and thinking, “Man, I thought he’d be playing forever.” Whether I wanted him to be or not, Kobe Bryant’s legacy has been ingrained into my life.

On Monday, Jan. 27, I received a phone call from a good friend from high school. He was in tears as he spoke about what Kobe Bryant meant to him and how his strength and determination changed his life. This young Black boy with big dreams to succeed saw himself in Kobe Bryant. He believed in himself because of Kobe Bryant. In addition to sharing a last name, my friend had gained a pseudo father figure.

The concept of parasocial interactions exceeds the Internet age. Entertainers, influencers and athletes have a long history of being more than “people onscreen” to fans. These seemingly regular people with extraordinary talent have the literal power to change the world. Whether it be donating money to charity, volunteering on a political campaign or speaking out on behalf of a marginalized group, these untouchable gems are real-life superheroes. I mean, how many people do you know that have scored over 33,000 points in their career?

Kobe Bryant was a father (#girlDad), a husband, friend, confidant, philanthropists, advocate and a phenomenal basketball player. Mourning his death will take time and healing as we have lost something and someone great. He will remain a hero to our generation in addition to generations to come. Thoughts, prayers and blessings to everyone that lost so much in that helicopter crash.