LOS ANGELES – We all do what we can to commemorate: large gestures, small gestures, personal gestures. Most of us did not know Kobe Bryant personally, we knew only what we saw on a basketball court and, later, sitting beside a basketball court in the company of his beautiful daughter.
Some of us did know him. Jerry West, the man who made Bryant a Laker, said: “This was a man for all seasons.” Phil Jackson, who coached him to his greatest heights, together winning five championships, said: “Kobe was a chosen one.” Michael Jordan, the player to whom he was most often compared, said: “He was like a little brother.”
But there are others. So, so many others.
In New York City on Sunday night, the lights of the Empire State Building were swathed in purple and gold, signature colors of the Lakers. There was a time when you’d sooner see that building voluntarily draped in Red Sox logos. But that’s what Kobe meant to basketball fans in this city, where he always seemed to save his very best for Madison Square Garden, “my home away from home” as he often called it
Monday morning, commuters on the 7 train at the 42nd Street-Bryant Park platform were greeted by an impromptu sign, “KOBE” covering the numerical half of the hyphen, giving him temporary co-ownership of the famed park named after former Post editor and noted abolitionist William Cullen Bryant.
In the Philippines, a country Bryant loved and visited many times, they had dedicated a new basketball hall, The House of Kobe, in Valenzuela City just hours before Bryant’s helicopter crashed Sunday, killing the 41-year old Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
“Everyone has been fighting back tears today,” said Congressman Eric Martinez, a leading force behind the hall. “This is a basketball-loving nation.”
In the Japanese city of Kobe, which bequeathed Bryant his name, Mayor Kizo Hisamoto said, “Our city had the good fortune of crossing paths with Kobe Bryant as his father named him after this city, given his love of Kobe beef. Due to his connection with this city he came to visit the Kobe government office in 1998 to make a donation for charity and between 2001 and 2011 he became the city’s ambassador and told the world about us.”
Of course, no city in the world is as affected by these dreadful days as Los Angeles, which not only lost Kobe and Gianna Bryant, but also seven other of its sons and daughters. Their names are lesser known but their loss is no less felt by their own communities of southern California.
John Altobelli was a long-time respected baseball coach at Orange Coast College, and among his former players was the Mets’ Jeff McNeil, who Tweeted of Altobelli: “One of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball.” Altobelli’s wife, Keri, and daughter Alyssa were also on the helicopter.
So were Sarah Chester and her daughter, Peyton, and Christina Mauser, who assisted Kobe coaching the girls’ basketball team whose game was Sunday’s destination. Ara Zobayan was the pilot. They will all leave their own abscesses in a world they departed too soon.
But it is Kobe Bryant whose name we all know, whose career we all witnessed, whose personal failings were well-documented, whose public life we all shared in some small way. The Lakers will host the Clippers Tuesday night in their first game after this unspeakable catastrophe. This would have been a magnificent basketball party, a third meeting this season between the Lakers, the old-school guardians of L.A., and the Clippers, the feisty upstarts.
It will be something else entirely now, part memorial service, part celebration. If the healing must begin at all, best that it start at Staples Center, even if so many members of the NBA are living today in the words of Mike Breen, the Knicks’ peerless television broadcaster who, as the NBA’s national voice, called the last two of Bryant’s five championships with the Lakers in 2009 and 2010.
“Just don’t feel like broadcasting,” Breen said Sunday before the Knicks-Nets game on MSG Network, undoubtedly channeling a strand of Bryant himself, doing what Bryant undoubtedly would have wanted him to do to honor him in the most appropriate way: go to work. “I know a lot of the players don’t feel like playing. It’s just a sad, sad day.”