ST. BONAVENTURE, NY — The impact hit hard. For basketball players, for sports fans, for seemingly everyone.
Kobe Bryant, one of the best basketball players to ever play the game, died Sunday in a tragic helicopter accident in Calabasas, California, with his daughter Gigi and seven others.
For St. Bonaventure men’s and women’s basketball players and coaches, it didn’t feel real. Instead, it felt like a nightmare.
But it wasn’t. As more and more sources confirmed his death, the nightmare ended. Reality set in.
The women’s basketball team was playing the University of Rhode Island as reports swirled of Bryant’s death Sunday afternoon. After winning 64-59, the team, filled with enthusiasm and excitement, went back to their locker room and entered celebration mode. Excitement quickly turned to silence and sorrow.
“It was really heartbreaking, definitely,” senior guard Dajah Logan said. “When we first started our postgame celebration, we were super excited. But the second somebody said Kobe Bryant died, I think everyone’s reaction was ‘what?’”
Logan continued, “Everyone turned their phones on and got the notifications, and it just went silent in the locker room. Nobody knew what to say or think.”
Head coach Jesse Fleming had similar a reaction. The bone-crushing news put a damper on what he thought was going to be a normal Sunday.
After speaking with ESPN NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, a 2007 St. Bonaventure journalism graduate, Fleming quickly realized basketball had a glaring hole. The win lost its importance.
“It was a buzz kill. A weird day. A really, really weird day,” Fleming said. “ I was talking to Tim Bontemps. He congratulated me on the win, but we talked about how it didn’t really feel like a win. It took the wind out of my sails. That’s life, you know. I didn’t know him [ Bryant], but he had an impact on a lot of people. His daughter, Gigi, was a big part of the women’s game. Kobe was a big part of the women’s game. It’s just a huge loss.”
Jaren English, a guard on the men’s basketball team, learned of his favorite player’s passing while watching the women’s basketball game.
Since Sunday, English has spent a lot of time reflecting on Bryant’s career and his own life. Bryant's passing served as a reminder of an important lesson that often gets lost in everyday life.
“Kobe was by far my favorite player,” English said. “And he will always be my favorite player. Nobody compares to him. He’s the greatest in my eyes. I didn’t get to watch Michael Jordan too much. Last night I was able to watch his 60-point game again, and it brought tears to my eyes.
“It really taught me that, right now, we’re kind of on borrowed time.You never know when your time is up. You have to cherish every moment and live in the moment to the fullest extent.”
And soon after the news broke, English expressed his love to the people he holds closest to his heart.
“As soon as it happened, I ran over and told my mom I loved her,” English said. “I called my brother and told him I loved him. Life’s too short to be mad and sad. You’ve got to smile through the pain and keep going.”
Logan shared similar thoughts. While Bryant will always be remembered for what he did for basketball, the fact is that he and his daughter should have had the rest of their lives to look forward to.
“As a person, he was a family guy,” Logan said. “I mirror my relationship with my father with his daughters and their relationship.”
Logan said, “With it being my senior year, I don’t know where basketball is going to take me after this. But kind of how Kobe Bryant lived ... there was always something better, something to look forward to. I model my life to that.”
Not only did Bryant’s death teach English, Logan and others powerful lessons on how to live life, but it illustrated how big of an impact Bryant’s play on the court and his actions off the court had on people, especially in basketball.
Fleming recalled that prior to the 2018-19 season, he showed his team a speech that Bryant had given to the University of Alabama football team during a 2018 visit.
“I remember last year at the beginning of the season we played a video of him talking to Alabama football,” Fleming said. “The message at the beginning of the season was you have edit your life and you have to make basketball the main thing and just his message of what he represented is really important.”
Mark Schmidt, head coach of the men’s basketball team, said while he never got the chance to meet Bryant, he has read a lot about him.
What made Bryant great, Schmidt said, was his relentless love and passion to get better at his craft. A good example of how far hard work can take a person in basketball and in life.
“He’s won five championships; he’s had scoring records,” Schmidt said. “He’s just one of the best. From a basketball player’s standpoint, he’s going to be missed. Looking at him and seeing what he did and the work he put in. A lot of people don’t understand how hard these guys work.”
Schmidt continued, “All people see is the finished product. All of those hours he spent watching tape and in the gym and working on all of his different moves. Sometimes that’s lost. You watch a kid play on television; that’s just not natural. That’s someone who made himself a player. He’s a great lesson for our guys. It’s sad what happened, but when you read all of these things about him, it brings to light how special he was.”
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