The news of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death this morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas has started to sink in. And, having lived through something similar in sports myself, after a few hours of reading the news accounts, I couldn’t help but think back to a dreaded fall Sunday and Monday in 1985 after the Flyers rising superstar goaltender, and fan favorite, Pelle Lindbergh, suffered fateful car crash from early that November Sunday morning. The parallels are way to similar. Hero. Family. Friends. The only difference is only Pelle died in the car crash, with two survivors.
While Pelle was an active player, and Kobe a retired hero, the adoration and respect they both carried is far too similar.
But what’s really happening is going to be even as gut-wrenching for those within the Laker’s family as the news of the death was to others.
To give you all some background, I was part of the Flyers management team, as back then I directed their amateur hockey program and also was the office manager. I remember hearing the news from my dad on the way back from a NEA conference at George Washington University the next day.
After hearing what transpired, I immediately called our assistant coach E.J. Maguire to get a sense of what had happened and what was going on. “Shock. Disbelief. Sadness” were some of his words. But the next few days between the crash and our next home game went from business as usual to more about what do we do. What’s the right thing to do was the common question. More importantly, how should we do it?
I’m sure now that all of those same thoughts that passed through all of the Flyers organization’s leadership’s mind and in discussion that next morning are what’s transpiring within the Lakers brain trust right now. It’s also not an easy gathering to be attending as Kobe was part of the “family” that brought greatness to the franchise.
While many of his era have moved on, the Buss family remains in charge, and for them and their leadership execs, as well as for the current players, the next few days are not going to be easy. And because the next home game is against the local rival, the Los Angeles Clippers, all eyes in the city will be upon them come Tuesday night.
And, it’s not just with the leadership that has decisions to make, as so too will the players from today and the past have to do things and say things. What do they do? How do they handle things? What’s right? What’s the limit of propriety.
For starters, the thoughts are, “how do we honor Kobe?” The first question is, “what’s appropriate?” Next is “what will the family want” as whatever is done will have to not only be passed by the family but because this is L.A., what will the media, especially, the likes of TMZ and the celebrity media, do and how will it be spun.
Make no bones about it, and the first thing will be what will the current players want to do. Will they adopt black memorial armbands? Will they put a swatch of black around their uniform tops? Will Kobe’s number be adorned for the balance of the season? Who will speak for the players? And what really will be said?
Next is the agonizing discussion about how to honor Kobe and his daughter, a daughter who spent many a night watching her father be a hero to the many before the game on Tuesday. Will it be a video highlight reel of Kobe’s career? Photos from magical moments? How long in minutes should it be? Who speaks for the organization? Who serves as the emcee? How long is the moment of silence? And because this is L.A. how do they not to make it Hollywood production, or to put it bluntly, how not to make it a spectacle.
Today is not an easy day for the Lakers’ leadership. First is the shock. Next is the aha moment of what do we do. Tomorrow will be worse. The media will start asking for insight as to what will be done. Who is doing what. Who’s coming into the city? Who will speak? What will they be saying?
Those are the thoughts that are likely wafting through the Lakers’ offices right now. But it goes farther. What is the NBA Hall of Fame going to do? Surely, Kobe would be a first-ballot inductee? What about his former teammates like Shaq and others? His Olympic team teammates? At Lower Merion High School outside of Philadelphia? How do you respect a fallen hero who was loved by so many? Someone who was both revered and respected.
The agony won’t go away. Not Tuesday night. Not Wednesday and not this week. Not this month. Like a dark cloud that hovers over a city, the loss of a legend way too early is never easy to accept. But the challenge is how those who are here do things to recognize him.
This is where taste over crass has to win out. It’s where calm, and where less is more than more or too much is right. It’s where you take the position of what would Kobe want, and how he would want to be honored, as there’s no question everyone already remembers him.
Yes, the next few days won’t be easy. And having lived through this back in 1985, it’s going to not be over on Wednesday. Kobe was a much larger than life personality, on and off the court. I hope that cooler heads, calm thinking, and doing what right prevail. But it is L.A. and you know what they say about that town. Let’s hope that it’s not entertainment, but something more appropriate.