I try to keep track of these outpourings of my thoughts and while I enjoy exploring what’s rolling around in my brain, I originally planned to try and keep these on the lighter side. But sometimes real life wins out.
Thinking ahead to this week, I was this close to talking about the solemn anniversary of the Space Shuttle disaster. It was one of those moments where you knew exactly what you were doing when you heard the news.
That particular day–in fact, 34 days ago today as I write this–I had slipped out of KLSY to join our news anchor, Karyl Levinson, in speaking to broadcasting students at Bellevue Community College. I remember we got started, telling stories about how we got into radio and the like when all of a sudden, a student came in and let us know the Space Shuttle had exploded during takeoff. We apologized to the students and then headed back to the radio station, with Karyl being the on-duty representative of our news department.
As television went non-stop in their coverage of the disaster and President Reagan gave his “slipped the surly bonds of earth” speech, the country remained in shock and disbelief. As I look back at that day, I realize that my lifetime has collected quite a collection of those moments. As you know, just when you think you can’t be shocked, something like 9-11 happens and raises the bar of shock all over again.
My lifespan has included the assassination of a president, a presidential candidate, and several civil rights leaders. Celebrities have been taken way too early and when it’s not drug-related, it’s due to a car, plane or helicopter crash. You start listing them and its mind-numbing to think about how many of the famous and legendary had their time cut so short.
Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Mama Cass, Jim Croce, John Lennon, Heath Ledger, Marvin Gaye, Corey Monteith, Paul Walker, Roberto Clemente, Amy Winehouse…and Judy Garland. I was 14 years old when she passed away at the age of 47. And at my age now, 47 seems so young.
Now the week where I would reflect on the Shuttle disaster has been taken over by the Kobe Bryant tragedy.
It became the latest incident where I will always remember where I was when I heard the news. We had just sat down to a brunch at my son and daughter-in-law’s home, along with her parents, when my son’s iWatch vibrated. He said, “Oh, no. I hope this isn’t true. It’s saying Kobe Bryant had died.”
Those with their phones began searching for the story and it wasn’t hard to find. By that time, an hour after the crash, there was plenty on-line to read about what happened and the additionally sad news that his second-oldest daughter was on board.
Kobe was no more important than the above-mentioned celebrities or the passengers who were also aboard that ill-fated helicopter. As they investigate the crash site, experts are reviewing everything they can and doing whatever it takes to find out what happened and what caused the crash.
But it won’t bring any of them back.
Now, I wasn’t a Kobe Bryant fan. That’s not to say I don’t completely respect his talents, his five N.B.A. championships, two Olympic gold medals and his amazing scoring ability. All this from a kid out of Philadelphia who went straight from high school to the N.B.A.. You see, I’ve been living in the Pacific Northwest since 1973, so when you say “The Lakers” that’s where I think of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Mel Counts and Wilt Chamberlain, those guys. Kobe was part of the new Lakers who were west coast rivals of my adopted team, the Seattle Supersonics.
But he was a hard guy to not know about. As a comedy writer, he was a punchline for anything that had to do with not passing or hogging the ball. Then, there was the time he allegedly cheated on his wife and he bought her a HUGE diamond ring to apologize. That was followed by a rape charge, which was eventually dropped. One young Washington Post writer found out that you’ve got to treat a popular legend with a little more respect, rather than speaking ill about him hours after his demise.
Like I said, I didn’t follow Kobe, I only saw what I saw. In recent years, I was hearing that he was really big about spending time with his family and encouraging his daughter’s basketball dreams. He was a fan of WNBA basketball, because he believed, in time, she would be playing at that level. Just a few weeks ago, Kobe spent a weekend in the Pacific Northwest, visiting a girls’ tournament in the central Washington town of Cashmere.
I know that he used that helicopter as a way to enable him to do more. To spend less time on the freeway in traffic and be able to get to meetings or basketball games. Kobe was an over-achiever and I can understand that more than you’ll ever know. If you have that disease, you just can’t resist accomplishing even more than what you’ve already done if it’s possible.
This past Sunday morning, Kobe and his daughter went to a Catholic mass at 7 a.m. and had communion. They then returned home and boarded the helicopter to head to a game that they never reached.
I don’t know where Kobe’s head was at. Was this the new and improved “Family Man” Kobe, who had finally shaken the Playboy mentality that evolves when you’re young and suddenly rich? Maybe. I want to believe that he had grown up, found peace and that he was thoroughly enjoying his time spending time with his kids and coaching them as I did. For me, it was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done and if opportunity allows, I’d love to do it again.
So now, January 26th has an incredibly sad time stamp on it every year that it passes around. It’ll be a reminder that there are no guarantees, that everything doesn’t have to make sense. We have what is right in front of us right now, so make it all count. Hug the ones you love and don’t waste a single opportunity to do good whenever you can and always do what’s right.
To me, this isn’t about an NBA superstar and his untimely death. This is about a dad and his daughter on their way to her basketball game that had a sudden, tragic ending.
God’s peace to the families of everyone lost that day.