Why Kobe Bryant’s Death Hurts Differently for People My Age

Missing Kobe Bryant

Today is the third consecutive day that I woke up to Kobe Bryant’s death. When I went to bed last night I held a small nugget of hope in my heart that I’d wake up and things would be different, but 95% of my Twitter timeline is still composed of posts about Kobe. He’s still gone.

I feel the same way my parents probably felt when John Lennon died. There was no personal connection between me and Kobe. I don’t have a heartwarming story about how he pulled me aside in the locker room or gave me advice about parenting, but these last few days have felt empty for me.

The hardest part of this grief is there is no reason for it. It is human to feel sad when you find out about loss, but I got out of bed just fine the morning after 176 people were mistakenly shot down by Iran’s military a few weeks ago. Why couldn’t I do the same the morning after Kobe passed?

My initial guess was that it’s because Kobe had been in my life for so long that it made sense his absence would be felt. Maybe it was just the gravity of his stardom pulling me down. Perhaps it was the wave of sad reactions I saw online. The sadness was overwhelming.

But I don’t think that it was a sadness I acquired, it was definitely something that was born from within. As I walked around campus looking at students sporting purple and gold, I realized that losing Kobe meant losing a part of youth.

When I was in middle school there was a tween who wore a Black Mamba t-shirt once a week that rode the bus with me. I would clown him for it. I thought the whole Mamba Mentality bit was so self-serious. Me and my friends just saw Kobe as a ball hog.

I felt no incentive to root for Kobe. The only time I saw him play live was when he shredded the Utah Jazz after they booed Derek Fisher for leaving the team. When the boos reigned down it seemed like Kobe was taking it personally. He fed off the hate.

That’s why so many kids my age idolized him. We weren’t born yet when he was drafted out of Lower Merion. We didn’t watch him throw up four airballs against the Jazz in his rookie season in 1997. We weren’t old enough to understand the ramifications of Kobe being accused of rape, and the victim shaming campaign his lawyer went on to protect his reputation.

I just remember Kobe battling against Steve Nash for the MVP crown. I remember him demanding a trade when the Lakers’ second best player was Smush Parker. I remember a lot of things about Kobe.

That’s why I think his loss has hit home so intensely for college students. Kobe represented an upbringing. He was an icon, a star and for many of us the first star we idolized. Whether you were a basketball fan or not, when you shot balls of paper into the trash can, you probably yelled, “KOBE!” 

That fascination was even more true for young men obsessed with basketball like the boy in the Black Mamba shirt that I rode the bus with. 

He was on the cover of multiple video games. His low top shoe was iconic. He made free throws with a torn achilles and scored 81 points in a single game. How could we not see him as invincible?

Now he’s gone. I think for a lot of people my age this is the first time one of those invincible people has passed away. It threw all of us off-balance. As much as losing David Bowie and Prince hurt, this felt so much more personal.

Kobe was our star. I’m sure there will be plenty of children born named Kobe over the next few months, and lot of young men who will immortalize Kobe in a tattoo on their body. He won’t be coming around anymore, so we’re trying to hold on to him.

For me, this feels like a loss of innocence. It’s like a part of my childhood has died. If someone who I saw as invincible could die so suddenly, that means I can too. So can my parents, my wife and the rest of the people I love. Kobe’s passing was a brutal reminder of how fast life moves. 

I know when I wake up tomorrow Kobe will still be gone. That’s going to be true everyday until I move on as well. It’s heartbreaking to think about.


Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo via unsplash.com