“Kobe with the fadeaway —s got it!” the commentator’s voice echoed at the Reynolds Gym. Several students stopped their workout, gathered in front of the TV and watched in silence.
It was a re-air of Kobe Bryant’s 60-point farewell to the NBA in memory of the former Lakers legend. On Jan. 26, Bryant died in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, striking emotions and sentiments around the world.
All nine passengers in the helicopter died, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant, according to CBS News. The cause was reportedly the extremely foggy weather, as “visibility was so low Sunday morning that Los Angeles police had grounded its helicopters,” according to police department spokesman Josh Rubenstein.
More than just an athlete, Bryant impacted a generation in his 20-year career. Like a lot of sports fans, many Wake Forest students grew up watching Bryant’s games and were devastated about his sudden passing.
“When the news came out, I spent 20 minutes lying in bed, crying. I played a lot of basketball growing up, and when we made a bad shot, we yelled ‘Kobe.’ It’s funny, but that’s how much he meant to so many people,” said sophomore Johnson Cook. “He [Bryant] was a dad, a husband. Vanessa [Bryant], she lost her daughter, their family lost a sister, and that’s the worst part of it. Beyond just playing basketball, he was a good dad.”
Wake Forest Men’s Basketball paid tribute to Bryant’s passing by wearing his signature sneakers during Monday’s training. In an open press conference, Head Coach Danny Manning and players shared their condolences. During his NBA career, Manning competed against Bryant.
“He was an ultimate competitor, always well prepared, mentally locked in and focused. It was an honor to play against him for a lot of years,” Manning said. “There is no replacing Kobe Bryant. People talked a lot about the basketball side of it, but he was a lot more than a basketball player. Especially at this point in his life, what he dedicated to was his family.”
To players like junior Olivier Sarr and sophomore Isaiah Mucius, Bryant had always been an inspiration in their basketball career. “My first jersey was a Kobe Bryant jersey,” Sarr said. “He was and he still will be an inspiration for me — the way he was working, how he put his mind into work and his dedication to life.”
Mucius remembered Bryant’s work ethic: “Wanting to be like Kobe and having all his shoes — he’s the guy I grew up watching. The stuff he did looks so effortless, but he definitely did so many reps in the gym to make sure he was confident,” Mucius said.
Beyond domestic impacts, Bryant’s legacy spread across the globe. Sophomore Shilin Yu, a Chinese international student and longtime NBA fan, shared his feeling on Bryant’s passing.
“I was shocked and numb at first, and in 10 minutes I started to feel sick,” Yu said with misty eyes. “To me, he was the most persistent person and player, and his spirits inspired so many people that he became an icon beyond basketball all over the world.”
For junior Simon Oh, a Korean international student, Bryant’s passing made him ponder life and death.
“It really feels strange … everyone in my friend group who plays basketball is inspired by him,” Oh said. “It’s just a casual thing to mention Kobe in my life, and it just makes me think of mortality and how precious life is.”