On Kobe, and on Connection
Kobe Bryant’s death makes many things feel trivial. Basketball is not one of them.
The day that Kobe died, it was my job to stay up all night and monitor Twitter in case the Lakers, LeBron, or another party made a statement. An all-nighter normally represents a chance to write, but my emotions were too raw. So, in an out-of-character move, I posted a photo on Instagram and wrote a caption.
The first comment I received was from Wynter Turner. Wynter attended Sports Business Classroom last summer, where I worked as a social media manager. As the week was moving along and students were becoming more and more immersed in Summer League, my friend and fellow SBC staff member Amit Barot asked Wynter about the experience so far. She began tearing up. “I’m sorry, I just…I haven’t felt this alive in a really, really long time.”
“Bigger than basketball” is such an overused platitude, but it exists for a reason and does have a proper application. This moment warranted that phrase.
The genuine vulnerability that Wynter showed us hasn’t left me. And when I saw her showing that same openness over social media in the wake of Sunday’s news, I decided to text her.
Upon doing so, I stumbled into describing the emotion I had been feeling — words that I would not have found had I been trying to write. I say that as someone who, despite plenty of insecurities, is quite confident in his writing ability. Usually, I capture my emotion—and that of others—when I sit down and start typing. In this case, I just don’t know if what I had been feeling about Kobe would have come out in any way other than conversation.
Simon Cherin-Gordon: Hey. How are you doing
Wynter Turner: It’s rough…I find myself intermittently breaking down….this one is tough I don’t understand my heart just hurts. I’m thankful for you ❤️
Simon Cherin-Gordon: I’m sorry. I feel the same. Yesterday was so sad and today is much worse. And I had some terrible dreams in between.
I am extremely thankful for you too Wynter 💜
Wynter Turner: I completely get it…After this past summer I considered you a part of my basketball family…hit me whenever you need strength…We all will get through this 💜💛
I’m struggling to put words together forgive me lol
Simon Cherin-Gordon: Don’t be sorry. I appreciate your words a lot. That’s why I posted what I did…no one loved basketball more than Kobe and this really made me, and it seems like many others, realize how connected we are to him because we share that love. And by extension, how connected we are to each other. That’s why basketball family is so real, because it’s rooted in a deep mutual love.
Every night, I walk by a giant wallpaper image of Kobe Bryant about 5–10 times: emerging from the elevators on my way into the office, walking to and from the kitchen to get tea or espresso, heading out to the stairwell before ubering back to Manhattan.
Had you asked me before Sunday who was pictured on that wall, I couldn’t have answered.
I knew that Kyrie Irving is next to the Men’s bathroom. That Russell Westbrook is next to the Women’s. That Nick Collison is lingering behind Serge Ibaka on the wall before turning the corner to enter the Content Command Center. I never could have told you that Kobe is in the spot that I pass by more often than any other.
Kobe is ubiquitous in basketball. No, he is synonymous with it. When I see images of him, still or moving, they don’t register. He doesn’t register. They are generic. A photograph of Kobe twisting his way to the rim with the ball held up in one hand might as well just be a photo of the ball itself. I am more aware of seeing Jerry West when I look at the NBA logo than I am of seeing Kobe Bryant when I look at a photo of him.
On Monday night, I saw three of my co-workers/managers down the hallway looking at that wall. I couldn’t stop to ask what was going on, but when I passed through the hall on a tea run later, I saw it: Kobe, surrounded by post-it notes.
After thinking about it all night, I decided to use my text to Wynter as a note to Kobe. The translation was not difficult.
“No one loved basketball more than you, and this has made me and many others realize how connected we are to you, because we share that love. By extension, we are all realizing how connected we are to each other. That’s why basketball family is so real, because it is rooted in deep mutual love.”
I never met Kobe Bryant, and I never will. Through loving basketball, however, I got very close to him. Not just because he was a great basketball player, but because he, too, loved basketball.
When people talk about how basketball is “just a game,” this is what they are missing. Yes, tragedy puts things in perspective. No, I do not care all that much about Damian Lillard or Eric Gordon scoring 50 points right now, and yes, it is difficult to pretend I do while creating social copy for the NBA. But as much as we should let ourselves grieve and allow this tragedy to serve as a reminder of how lucky we all are every single day, we should also never, never, never feel bad for caring about basketball games, their plays, their highlights, their stats, their results.
Kobe was so much more than a basketball player, in that we are all so much more than any one thing. But Kobe was a basketball player, and he was a fantastic one. He was almost unprecedentedly athletic, and he matched his athleticism with perhaps the most refined footwork for a guard of all-time. Greater than either ability was his will, his competitiveness, his give-a-shit-ness. Kobe cared more about basketball than just about anyone ever has, and those of us who care anywhere close to as much care about him as a result. We love Kobe as a human as much as we love any human, because we are human, but our extra love for Kobe comes from random games in January when he would score 42 points and defeat the Denver Nuggets. We love Kobe because he would dunk on Dwight Howard, throw his body into three Pacers to get to the line and bank in terrible shots to beat the Heat. It’s bigger than basketball, but not because basketball is trivial. It’s bigger than basketball because basketball is so important to those of us that love it, that we can love each other through it. Kobe embodied basketball, and basketball will forever embody him. I love basketball, I love Kobe Bryant, and I love everyone who this special game has brought me together with.