I had April 11, 2016, circled on my calendar for months.
The Los Angeles Lakers, the worst team in the NBA, were scheduled to visit the playoff-bound Oklahoma City Thunder for one of the final games of the regular season. This game, under normal circumstances, would be inconsequential, a formality before the real fun of the playoffs started.
These were far from normal circumstances, though. Kobe Bryant was set to play the final road game of his illustrious NBA career.
In a career spanning 20 seasons, Bryant won five championships and played in 18 all-star games. He broke record upon record, proving doubters wrong and amazing fans with his lethal scoring ability and clutch game-winners. His arrival in Oklahoma City drew anticipation from fans and the media alike.
The day finally arrived. I was high in the upper deck with several of my high school friends. While ticket prices soared above $100 on the secondary market, we were able to score cheap tickets through a Harding University recruitment event centered around the game.
When the public address announcer announced Bryant’s name, Chesapeake Energy Arena erupted. All 18,203 people in attendance rose to their feet. Thunder fans in attendance were just as loud as Lakers fans. It was a genuine appreciation of greatness.
Kobe had an unspectacular game, scoring 13 points in 18 minutes on 4-12 shooting. But the energy in the building remained incredible throughout. Every time he caught the ball, the crowd cheered. When he scored, the sound was deafening.
Kobe Bryant was the farthest thing from my mind until yesterday afternoon. I was planning out the week ahead, seeing what homework I would have to do and what would run in the Talon. Then I logged into Twitter and saw this headline from TMZ:
“BREAKING. Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash.”
I was in shock. I prayed it was a false report. But over the next hour, outlets from ESPN to the Associated Press confirmed the news. National news outlets also reported Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others aboard the helicopter were killed. The helicopter was bound for a basketball tournament in Thousand Oaks, CA.
Bryant was just 41 years old with a wife and four daughters, one of them just seven months old. He remained active after retiring from the NBA in 2016, producing short films and coaching Gianna’s youth basketball team. He also helped rising NBA stars perfect their craft during the offseason.
While we do not know as much about Gianna and the other seven victims aboard the helicopter, their lives were just as valuable. It would be a mistake to forget about them and focus only on Kobe.
News like this a sobering reminder that life is precious and can be taken away at any moment. A reminder that when we get caught up in the minor inconveniences and details and stresses of life, we miss out on what is really important.
It is a fair assumption that nobody on the Oklahoma Christian University campus knew Kobe Bryant personally. But he had an impact on many of us. We drew inspiration from him as he diced up defenses and hit incredible shots in the postseason. He inspired us to give maximum effort in pickup games and intramural championships. Losing a public figure of Kobe’s magnitude hurts.
It has already been a challenging semester for many on the Oklahoma Christian campus, and although Bryant was not directly tied to the university, this news is yet another gut punch. It has become easy to feel like nothing positive has happened in 2020, and things will only continue to get worse.
While there will inevitably be more bad news in 2020, there will also be good. And there will be moments with people we love which are precious and invaluable. A strong community is able to endure bad times and celebrate good times. I believe Oklahoma Christian is more than capable.