• Brian L. Barefield

MAMBA OUT Kobe Bryant and eight other passengers pass away in early morning helicopter crash.

Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

I remember it like it was yesterday. June 25, 2009 I was standing in the checkout line at the shopette at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. In my basket was candy, chips, and other products I had been tasked to get for the rest of the soldiers that was in basic training with me. Was I supposed to be there? No. But we can talk about that at a later date. As I stood in line trying not to be seen by the drill sergeants, my eyes happened to catch a glance at what was being shown on the television. Pop Icon and music legend, Michael Jackson had passed away due to health complications.

My heart dropped. I was thinking this was all just a bad dream. The man whose music I grew up on when he was in the Jackson 5 group with his brother was gone just like that. The musical genius who brought us songs such as Thriller, Billie Jean, Rock with You, etc. had passed on from this world. As I stood there with my emotions in my hand, all I could think about was my 11-year old son who loved Michael Jackson so much that he dressed like him for Halloween. He along with many others would be devastated by the news. I cried knowing that the world had lost a legend.

It has been over 10-years since I felt that way towards a celebrity passing away. Many have gone on to glory and I say a prayer and give my condolences to the family through social media like many others.

All that changed on January 26, 2020. As I sat talking to a veteran preparing for my workout at the gym, an alert came across my phone that I thought was a hoax at first.

“According to sources. Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash in California.”

I had to read it twice just to make sure the pre-workout powder wasn’t playing with my mind. After reading it again, my journalistic instincts kicked in and I began to look for the words, “Confirmed” in all the reports I was reading. Once I finished reading three articles, it was in fact true. Kobe Bryant along with eight other passengers in his private helicopter crashed in the Los Angeles County suburb of Calabasas. Amongst those eight other passengers was Kobe’s 13-year old daughter Gianna better known as “Gigi.”

According to reports the helicopter was headed to Gigi’s basketball game in Thousand Oaks. Further investigation has shown that the weather conditions were not suitable for flying due to the dense fog that was present before the helicopter took off. The fog was so bad that the Los Angeles Police Department had grounded their helicopter until it cleared.

News traveled fast about the untimely demise of the 5-time Champion who played his entire career with the Los Angeles Lakers. The sports world was turned upside down with the news and the buzz was making its way throughout the gym as well. I was stunned. My spirit was crushed.

Not only was Kobe too young to leave this earth at 41 years of age, but his wife Vanessa and other three daughters, Natalia, Bianca, and Capri didn’t deserve to lose a husband and father. They also have to deal with the fact that Gigi, who had a bright future in basketball will no longer be around to be the big sister and her mom’s first child.

So many knew him as the “Black Mamba” on the court, so it was no surprise when celebrities, athletes both past and present, politicians, etc. begin to flood the social media airwaves. Here are just a few out of the thousands that have been posted:

“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” said former President Barack Obama. “To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”

“Kobe and I shared so many special conversations about life and basketball,” said Laker Legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “We had so much in common off the court. I used to love talking to him about Lakers basketball, being fathers and husbands and how much we loved Italy. I will miss those conversations and him so much.”

“There’s no words to express the pain I’m going through with this tragedy of losing my niece Gigi and my brother Kobe,” Shaquille O’Neal posted on his Twitter page. “I love you and you will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. IM SICK RIGHT NOW!

Crash site of Bryant's private helicopter

I have to agree with Shaq on this one. It’s difficult to write this article about a man who dominated on the court and was having a very successful life away from it. He loved coaching his daughter and her teammates. Kobe was also becoming a prominent voice for women’s basketball and the equality they deserved as basketball players.

My heartfelt condolences goes out to the family members of the other passengers who lost their lives as well. I know that Kobe’s name will be the only one mentioned often because of his mega-superstar status, but those individuals were the stars of their families as well and their lives meant just as much.

In his final NBA game with the Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in a victory against the Utah Jazz, 101-96. Before he left the court one last time in front of all the Laker faithful who had piled into the Staple Center to send their favorite player into retirement, Kobe left them with a phrase that would later turn into a mantra for all of those who strived to be like him.

“Mamba out.”

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