What hurts the most are all of the pictures of them together. The thing that strikes a nerve with me every time is the way he looks at her, the way that she looks at him. It bothers me because I know that look too well.
I had just come from a run. I took a shower and was sitting on my couch when my mother called me. She says, “Marlon, your sister just called me and said that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident. Is this true?” I had no idea what she was talking about. At first thought, I figured my sister had gotten Kobe’s name in the news confused with LeBron passing Kobe on the all-time scoring list the night before. I told my mother, “Nah, he didn’t die. LeBron beat his scoring record is all.” With the intuition that all mothers have, mine replied, “Just check for me and call me back, okay?” Fine mom. I ended the call and went right to the Internet, typing “Kobe Bryant” in the search bar. The results floored me. Kobe Bryant, 41, dead after helicopter crash. TMZ was reporting it, so was USA Today, and MSNBC, and CNN. It was true. Kobe was gone.
He was one of us, not in the sense that we were cool with him or hung out, but in the sense of his presence and spirit has been a part of our social fabric since he was a kid. If you’ve been in any barber shop in this country on a Saturday afternoon, at some point you’ve listened to or engaged in the discussion about who was better, Jordan, Kobe or LeBron. Watched Moesha as a child? Kobe took Brandy to the prom in 1996. He was a Laker in an era when being a Laker was akin to being a Yankee or a Cowboy. He was one of the biggest stars on one of the biggest teams in sports. And he was a Black boy growing up in front of a nation of Black boys growing up. So, yeah, he was one of us.
I pulled myself together. I’m pretty good when it comes to death. I mean, I understand that life is fragile and that the thread between life and death is thin, sometimes too thin for the living to comprehend. I get that. As I’m heading to the car, a text comes through. It’s Sakina. She sends a screenshot of a TMZ report that reads, “Kobe’s daughter also killed in the crash.” I sat in the car, silent, alone. The thought of this beautiful child dying in this horrible crash was too much. I cried hard in my car for a few minutes and at the time I didn’t understand why.
There’s this thing with fathers and their daughters. It’s a love that cannot be explained with mere words. A father should be his daughter’s first love, the man that she will forever set as a standard, this human measuring stick pressing against the qualifications of all other men. But to a father, his daughter is the reflection of his love and commitment to life. She is the one who sits on his lap and listens to his stories. She is the one who eats his cooking, teaches him the new dance moves, sings with him in the car on the way to school. She gets his love wholly and without condition. I know, because I have two daughters. A man can love dozens of women, and not one of them will ever know the depths of his love in the way that his daughter does.
So, when I heard that Gigi was on the helicopter with Kobe, my mind immediately went to how I would feel on a helicopter with either of my daughters when it was going down. My only thought would be to protect her, to save her, to be her dad. It wouldn’t be about me, or about this failing helicopter, or about dying. It would only be about her, in that moment, saving her. We could go all the way down, crash and burn and my final thoughts wouldn’t be about me at all. That’s why I cried. I cried for Kobe because I’m so sorry that he couldn’t save his baby girl.
The whole world will find ways to celebrate the life of Kobe Bean Bryant. He was an incredible athlete and a champion. He impacted the lives of many. But I promise you, for some of us, we will remember his life in a different way. We will honor who he was by hugging our daughters even tighter, by being there for them even more, by holding on to that father/daughter love affair for as long as we can. #girldad