A father, his daughter and their sport
In light of the recent tragic death of Kobe Bryant, I began to think a lot about my own relationship with my father and how sports is such a huge part of our bond. My Dad was the long time basketball coach at Shelby County High School, Charles Dickinson. I wrote the following about fathers, daughters and the sports that form a bond between them:
At the age of 41 a basketball great, a legend around the world, a superhero to many was gone in an instant. A helicopter accident took the life of a man with so much more to give. When I learned the news about Kobe I was immediately locked in a state of disbelief. Like many I just couldn’t believe it. I quickly searched through Twitter, the often most reliable source of information, for confirmation hoping I wouldn’t find it. Confirmation eventually came. Kobe Bryant. Kobe freaking Bryant. The Black Mamba. Could this larger than life persona really be…gone? I can’t even say I consider myself to be a huge Kobe Bryant or Lakers fan but this is Kobe Bryant we’re talking about. Anyone that can call themselves a basketball fan or a sports fan in general has a part of them that just has to respect that name. No matter who you root for this was an incredible loss.
And then came the worst news imaginable. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was also killed in the crash. Thirteen. 13 years old. A baby. She had barely even begun to live her life. A father and a daughter. Gone together in the most tragic of ways. How could anyone comprehend a tragedy like this?
I tossed and turned that night. I just felt so heartbroken over their untimely deaths. For some reason I just couldn’t shake this feeling of shock and horror. Celebrities and athletes have passed before, some tragically in their own right, but Kobe’s death just felt so…. unfair. He’ll never get to see his youngest daughter grow up. He’ll never walk his daughter’s down the aisle. He’ll never get to watch Gianna play basketball in the WNBA. And that’s when it hit me. Basketball. Sports. This loss was so heartbreaking, so unimaginable for me because I saw so much of my own relationship with my Dad in Kobe and Gianna’s.
Gianna and I were both born to sports legends. Her Dad was one of the greatest basketball players the NBA and the world will ever see. My Dad was the greatest basketball coach Shelby County High School has ever known. Millions around the world look to Gianna’s Dad as a leader. A superhero taken from the pages of a comic book and put into a Lakers jersey. Kobe Bryant was the person they all wanted to emulate. A winner with a never quit mentality you wanted to try to adopt.
The 500 or so Wildcats that walked the halls of SCHS for 26 years think of my Dad as their own leader. A man that gave them their driver’s license or ran their butts into the ground at the end of every practice. A superhero that lived through Civil Rights era Alabama to become a prominent black face in the mostly white world of high school athletics. Coach D was a friend when you needed one; he was a father when you didn’t have one. Coach D was the person that taught them the most valuable lessons they would learn in their lives.
I’m sure Gianna felt the most awe and inspiration witnessing her Dad’s jerseys be retired. Seeing those jerseys rise up in the air feeling the most honor and pride knowing that was her Dad’s legacy. It’s the same way I felt as a little girl the night my Dad learned that that little gym at Shelby County High School would bear his name from then on. It’s the way I felt driving to school and passing the Charles Dickinson Gymnasium every day. A father, his daughter and basketball. Their sport.
Gianna was, without a doubt, primed to carry on her father’s basketball talent. An incredible girl with so much potential, you could see Kobe’s natural talent in every move she made. You could see Kobe’s handles, his footwork, and his jump shot. She was Mamba Junior, a star in the making. But what I loved even more than watching Gianna play was seeing her sitting on the sideline with her Dad. They were laughing and joking and analyzing every move and every play. Finishing each other’s sentences. Knowing exactly what the other was going to say about a particular play. It’s something I’ve done in the stands at Yankees games so many times with my Dad. Analyzing every pitch, eyeing every pop up, wondering why the pitcher went with the fastball instead of the split finger curve. While I may not have chosen to follow in my Dad’s footsteps to the court, like Gianna, my love for the game, my love for sports, was without a doubt a love built from the love I have for my father.
The only comfort I can take from this tragedy is that Kobe & Gianna were together at the time of their passing; on their way to do something they loved. I find solace in knowing that in this world and in the next nothing can shake their bond. A bond that is woven, much like mine, from a father, his daughter and their sport.’