The tragedy of today reminds us that we never really know what’s in store for our lives.
I’d just sat down with a stupid smile on my face when I felt my phone buzzing. Inside Coleman Coliseum, with the band playing and the crowd filing in for a women’s basketball game between Alabama and Vanderbilt, I had a stupid smile on my face because I’d just seen some adorable puppies. A local adoption agency had brought in dogs looking for a new home, and I’d gone to the concourse to see them with a friend who was working the SEC Network+ telecast.
When I returned and sat down at the scorer’s table next to my Crimson Tide Sports Network radio partner, I told him that the dogs were adorable and that, “they’d brightened my day.” All the while, my phone kept buzzing. I absentmindedly whipped it out of my blazer pocket, expecting a Snapchat from a friend or maybe a Twitter notification centered around the game. Instead, it was a collection of texts from a friend while a group chat simultaneously relayed the sudden news. I read the messages, and my heart sank.
Kobe Bryant is gone at the age of 41. A Sikorsky S-76B helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, claimed the life of Bryant as well as his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other victims, including college baseball coach John Altobelli, Altobelli’s wife Keri, their daughter Alyssa, and elementary school basketball coach Christina Mauser. The other passengers have yet to be identified. This is the kind of news that makes you stop. It took a few seconds to recover and find some poise (because we had to go on the air), but every break in the basketball action sent my mind racing back over the details slowly appearing on social media throughout the day.
My fondest memory watching Kobe Bryant was his last game. At my high school, lights out was a big deal. When the teachers came around and said it was time to shut things down, they meant it and you listened, even if you were a senior. Not on April 13, 2016. Not for Kobe Bryant’s farewell. I gathered with other basketball fans and watched in the common room, transfixed by his 60-point masterpiece against the Jazz, a rousing concerto performed by one of basketball’s greatest conductors. Even when the teacher on duty came in to herd everyone off to their rooms, he told us we could watch Mamba’s final seconds with the Lakers and the subsequent ceremony. It was quite the end to a marvelous career.
Kobe Bryant’s legacy is one that we will discuss long after this night, and folks much more qualified than I have written about that legacy. Bill Plaschke’s column is especially poignant, as is the work from Michael Rosenberg for SI and so many other members of the media for various outlets. Before today, I probably hadn’t thought much about Kobe Bryant since April 13, 2016. I never had his jersey growing up and, as a kid born and raised in a college-sports-crazy family and state, I never invested in any NBA particular team or the league overall until the playoffs (and even then it usually wasn’t until the finals). Still, there’s a reason I’ve been wiping away tears since just before 2 pm central time, and I think I know why.
As I sat in my room and watched the coverage on television of the horrific crash, I thought back to Christmas Eve, when the news of ESPN college football reporter Edward Aschoff’s passing from pneumonia hit the airwaves. There was a feeling of pure shock and sadness among college football media on Twitter, and amazing tributes poured out from colleagues and even certain bowl games over the next few weeks. I also thought back to December 28th, when it became clear that a plane crash in Lafayette, Louisiana, that had popped up on Twitter Moments that morning was actually carrying, among other victims, a young and talented reporter named Carley McCord, the daughter-in-law of LSU offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger. I even thought back to the day in 2018 when I got the call from my mother informing me that my dear friend Commissioner Mike Slive had passed away. All sudden, all heart-breaking, and all a reminder of the precious nature of life. I’ve been crying all day thinking about today’s tragedy as well as all of these other examples because we just don’t know.
There are a lot of things we take for granted in this world. We make plans for the future, filling our calendars with trips and reunions and the like. We get a text from somebody and mentally say to ourselves, “I’ll get back to that later.” We decline a call because we’re at a really good point in an episode of Watchmen. I know I fall into the trap of thinking that I can take care of everything later, that whatever I need to get done can be accomplished after this or that. I find myself often focusing on what’s next instead of what’s right now.
As single strands of tears kept falling down my face all afternoon, I realized that, quite truly, later isn’t guaranteed. We just don’t know. That’s the deal. That’s the hand we’ve all been dealt. It may seem unfair, but such is life. If you didn’t know that already, today was a rude awakening.
It probably sounds corny, but these last few months (and, for me, this last year) serve as a reminder to live life, love life, and value every second. Text that person back. Answer the phone. Don’t take later for granted, because none of us are ensured another breath. Like I said, we don’t know when our time is up. The events of January 26th are a tragedy in every sense of the word. Lives were cut short. Futures were extinguished, and it sucks. The sports world lost a legend in Kobe Bryant, as well as a chance to see what kind of legend Gianna Bryant could be on the hardwood. Families and friends of the victims are hurting, and everything about this incident, just like every horrible event that claims an innocent life, doesn’t make sense.
We here at Student Union Sports typically stick to the college sports angle, but I couldn’t today. This was weighing too heavily on my heart to ignore. Live life, love life, and value every second. We’ve been gifted one chance down here on this planet. Take advantage of it now, not later, and do it with tenacity and passion. That’s the Mamba Mentality.