On the most memorable sports day in recent memory, Mekhi Lairy and many of his teammates were lacing up their Adidas sneakers and slipping on their red Miami jerseys when one player entered the locker room and yelled the news.
Down the hall, Dae Dae Grant was in the training room, waiting to get taped up, when Nike Sibande and Josh Brewer sprinted in.
“They said, ‘Hey, bro, Kobe just died,’” Grant said. “I said, ‘Stop lying.’”
The rest of the stunned world joined Grant in saying the same thing.
Sunday morning, Jan. 26, 2020, National Basketball Association icon Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. Bryant was 41 and less than four years past his retirement from basketball.
“When they first said it, I didn’t believe it at all,” Lairy said. “It couldn’t be real. I still don’t believe it.”
After Sunday’s practice, Grant said the RedHawks sat in the locker room, quietly reading about Bryant’s death.
By then, the whole world was shouting “Kobe!”
But that’s nothing new. It’s been that way for years, as kids would crumple up anything they could find and shoot it into a trash can while confidently yelling his name.
“Anything. I’m talking about paper in school,” Grant said before Lairy cut him off.
“It didn’t matter what — rocks, pencils,” Lairy said.
Imitating Bryant is a generational staple, and it isn’t limited to off-court shenanigans.
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“[I yell it] if I take a deep shot, not in a game, but just playing with my guys,” Grant said.
“Anytime I’m taking a fade and playing around, [I scream,] ‘Kobe!’ I ain’t ever hit a fade like him, though,” Lairy said.
Bryant racked up five NBA Championships, an MVP award, 18 all-star selections and too many other accolades to list in 20 NBA seasons, all with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He was a student,” Grant said. “He was a really smart basketball player. Things you wouldn’t think that he studied, he did. That’s why he was so good.”
“When you think of Kobe, you think of how hard he worked,” said Miami head coach Jack Owens, who admitted Bryant was his favorite athlete.
Owens called Sunday “a truly emotional day, for everyone.” His wife, Kamilah, is from California, and the couple, along with their three daughters, are Lakers fans.
Despite Bryant being considered one of the greatest basketball players and sport ambassadors of all time, Owens didn’t focus on hoops when talking about Bryant’s tragic death with his team.
“[His death] kind of put things in perspective, to be honest with you, about how precious life is,” Owens said, relaying a message he had shared with his team. “You have to thank God for the moments you have on this Earth. With your loved ones, you have to express how you feel about them and tell them on a regular basis.”
Luckily, that’s what the sports world and beyond expressed to Kobe Sunday and for the last 20 years — even from a college basketball team 2,000 miles away.