Kobe and Thurman. Graphic by Andy Singer; Photos Obtained Courtesy of AP
This is not the article I had planned for today. Somehow, after the news that broke Sunday afternoon on the East Coast regarding the horrific death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and others in a helicopter crash, taking a deep dive into the Yankees’ ZiPS projections just seemed tone deaf. I don’t think that this is something anyone ever hopes or wants to write about. I’ve been somewhat frozen for the last couple of hours trying to sort through my thoughts on the events that have occurred.
I know now that I won’t forget where I was when I heard the news that one of the greatest athletes in the history of sports had died. I was sitting in my car, driving up to Syracuse for work, when my phone dinged with a news update, bringing me the headline of Kobe’s death in a helicopter crash. For the next couple of hours, I drove in silence, trying to comprehend the news while sorting through my thoughts.
I admit that I have always had mixed feelings about Kobe Bryant due to the controversial events that occurred in 2003, and I thought about that throughout the day on Sunday. There will be a time and place to talk about Kobe’s legacy in its entirety, but that day is not today. No matter how you feel about Kobe’s legacy, there is no way to look at the events of Sunday, January 25th as anything other than tragic.
The world lost not only a historically great athlete, but 8 others in Sunday’s accident. Among the 8 people who died, 2 were children, including Kobe’s 13 year-old daughter. We also know now that long-time Orange Coast College baseball coach, and former Cape Cod baseball league coach, John Altobelli, and his wife and daughter were among the victims. The focus has been on Kobe Bryant today, but it is essential to remember that far more people than just Kobe Bryant’s network of people had their lives changed forever today. I get choked up just thinking about the fact that children with their whole lives ahead of them lost their lives on Sunday.
Kobe Bryant’s death has affected many people in a profound way. I was struck by the images of people crowding outside of the Staples Center to memorialize Bryant’s life and career. The scene reminded me of an event that is still remembered by fans and members of the extended Yankee family: the death of Thurman Munson in a plane crash in 1979. I was not alive to witness Munson’s career, or the shock, horror, and sadness that many experienced in the days, weeks, months, and years that followed Munson’s accident. Like Bryant, Munson was a beloved figure in his sport both due to his talent and his fiery personality between the lines. Munson’s ability and performance is what kept him on the field for parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues; his will to win, fiery persona with both teammates and opponents, and his leadership on multiple championship teams made him a legend. Whatever else Kobe Bryant was in his personal life, and no matter how different the scenarios surrounding their deaths are, Munson and Bryant are linked by the core elements that made them beloved as players. It is why the sports world is mourning in much the same fashion as it did 40+ years ago.
Today is a day for mourning, much as the days following Munson’s death were. Kobe Bryant was a basketball legend who made an impact on the Lakers organization, teammates, opponents, fans, athletes, and people around the world, much like Thurman Munson before him. Kobe Bryant and 8 others lost their lives far too early on Sunday. My heart goes out to all those who are affected by their loss.