Basketball fans at UConn and around the world were shocked by the sudden and tragic death of one of the sport’s biggest stars on Sunday. Kobe Bryant, 41, and his daughter Gianna, 13, were among the nine when the helicopter they were traveling in unexpectedly crashed and exploded in Calabasas, California, according to TMZ.
The sports world reacted immediately with expressions of grief and solidarity with the Bryant family, as all NBA games slated that day began with intentional eight-second backcourt violations and 24-second shot clock violations to pay tribute to the two jersey numbers Kobe wore throughout his career.
According to Kobe, Gianna was “hellbent” on playing for the UConn women’s basketball team. He and Gianna were spotted attending a game at Gampel Pavilion last March, clad in UConn gear.
To commemorate the effect Kobe and Gianna Bryant (or Mambacita, as he called her) had on the UConn community, the UConn women’s basketball team enshrined a seat on their bench with white flowers and a custom jersey ahead of their game against Team USA on Monday. Additionally, UConn women’s basketball alumni Rebecca Lobo and Breanna Stewart, as well as top recruit and UConn commit Paige Buekers were among those who shared personal messages of grief following the tragedy on social media.
However, the tragic loss of Kobe and Gianna Bryant reached far beyond those familiar with them through the sporting world.
“He was bigger than basketball, you don’t see too many people bring people together like Kobe does,” said second-semester undeclared student Logan Broyles. “I play golf and nowadays people look at Tiger Woods and say, ‘He’s the reason I picked up a golf club,’ so I think it’s very much the same with Kobe. I bet a lot of kids first picked up a basketball trying to be like the Black Mamba, and I think the game is so much better because of it.”
Broyles’ statements were largely echoed by eighth-semester communications major Richardson Presmi.
“We didn’t grow up with the greats from back then but Kobe was there all through our childhood and had a great impact on all of us,” Presmi said. “He gave back, opened up academies, raised his daughters, in interviews you would say he’s a good guy.”
Bryant, a five-time NBA champion, cultivated a reputation as a ruthless competitor, demanding the utmost effort from himself as well as his teammates.
“The mentality that Kobe brought along with everything he did, winning championships and being a leader will be how I remember him,” said sixth-semester plant science major Reid Schweizer. “He would take you one-on-one and didn’t care who you were. That was his mentality the whole time. He wanted to take you on and didn’t care if you were the best or the worst, and he wanted to make people better along the way.”
In the years since his retirement in 2016, Bryant had settled naturally into a teacher’s role, offering advice and friendly challenges to many of the league’s young stars.
“He was an inspiration to a lot of people in terms of never giving up and moving forward with your dreams,” said second-semester undeclared student Michelle Corona.
Fourth-semester economics major Josh Frankel expressed similar sentiments.
“He meant more to a city, a community, a sport than some kids mean to their families,” Frankel said.
Nick Smith is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.