How quickly things change. On Saturday night, the National Basketball Association world celebrated when the Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James moved into third place on the league’s career scoring list, passing retired Lakers’ scoring machine Kobe Bryant.
On Sunday morning came the stunning, tragic news that the beloved Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were fatally injured in a helicopter crash outside of suburban Los Angeles.
In the final tweet of his life, Bryant, 41, congratulated James on his greatness. “Continue to move the game forward. Much respect my brother,” the tweet said.
“Shocking … it reminds me of when JFK Jr. died in a plane crash … or even Princess Diana,” Michael Bateman, a member of Lakewood High School’s 1967 NJSIAA Group III state championship boys team and a Toms River attorney, said on Facebook. “Kobe once said, ‘If you love the game, the game will love you.’ Greatness personified.”
Retired Brick Memorial and Point Pleasant Beach boys coach Tom Pickering recalled how he and his family lived near Lower Merion High School, Pa., where Bryant starred before becoming an NBA player. Lower Merion is a suburb of Philadelphia where James passed Bryant in a loss to the 76ers.
“Kobe played just down the street from where we lived,” Pickering said on Facebook. “RIP Kobe.”
Bob Delaney, a retired NBA referee who has lived in Brick Township, said on Facebook, “Good man. God bless. An honor to know him. RIP Gianna and Kobe.”
Micah McDonald, a former Toms River South athlete and a South Toms River resident, took to Facebook to pay a touching tribute to Bryant. “I am not a Lakers fan,” he said, “but being a sports fan like a lot of us are, you learn to respect and appreciate greatness. When you heard his name on ESPN, you stopped to look. Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest to ever play the game. He was more than a ballplayer. He was first a son, a friend, a teammate, a husband and then a father.
My heart and prayers go out to his parents, his wife, his children, his family of friends and his millions of fans across the world. “My girlfriend isn’t a sports person, but his death has her crying her eyes out because she knows who he is and what he has meant to an entire generation of people.
The sports world and the world in general have lost a truly great person, sports legend and icon. R.I.P. Black Mamba.”
Mike Jedziniak, a former South and University of North Carolina baseball standout who is now an attorney, said there is no comparison between Bryant and retired superstar Michael Jordan. “RIP Kobe,” Jedziniak said on Facebook. “M.J. never scored 81 in a game.
One of the immortals.” Philip Petescia said on Facebook: “I saw his first All-Star Game from the SI (Sports Illustrated) box at MSG (Madison Square Garden) on Feb. 8, 1998. We were so excited about M.J. and Shaq that it wasn’t until recently when I learned it was Kobe’s first All-Star Game.”
Brick Township resident Skip Pulcrano, utilizing Facebook, quoted Bryant as saying, “If you have the talent, practice like you have none.” Ira Thor, a Howell Township Board of Education member, expressed his shock on Facebook.
“Stunned and saddened … disbelief,” he said. Former Ocean County College men’s basketball coach Andy Smith, an ex-Brick Memorial player, said on Facebook, “RIP Kobe Bryant #24.”
Chris Smith of Seaside Heights also was stunned at the news. “It shook me up a bit,” he said on Facebook. “A basketball legend.” Barnegat football coach Robbie Davis said on Facebook, “RIP Kobe!”
Fan Brian Ewan on Facebook, “What’s worse is his 13-year-old daughter was also killed.” Former Brick Township High School athlete Jay Groschel opined on Facebook, “What terrible news about KB. Everyone remembers at least one time when they shot a basketball by themselves or with friends and said, ‘Kobe!!’ on the release.”
Brick Township resident Carol Frank Brown, an avid sports fan, said on Facebook, “Will continue to be a shining star. RIP GIANNA AND KOBE!” Her brother, Richard Frank, a retired art educator in the Brick Township School District, said on Facebook, “RIP Kobe.” Former Lakewood basketball player Wayne Jupiter said of the event on Facebook, “So sad.”
Christopher eyed Bryant while covering sports for the Ocean County Observer in Toms River, occasionally writing about the exploits of the Julius Erving-led Phladelphia 76ers.
Kobe was not much more than a toddler in their locker room. He had a front row seat for the NBA at a tender age as his father, Joe Bryant, was a team member. Kobe was a favorite among the club’s players as he was always smiling, always laughing and always having fun. At times, he teased his dad and his dad’s teammates. And now he’s gone. Amazing. Unbelievable.
Interviewed on the Fox News Channel, Erving seized the moment as he often did while playing, stating, “When I heard of Kobe’s death, the first thing I thought about was Joe and Pam as Kobe was their son.” Kobe’s life was a life well lived.
Although his life ended at an early age, he was never cheated as he lived an action-packed life, his acrobatic play and infectious personality triggering numerous roars of approval from his fans–and even his non-fans. Rest in peace Kobe.