Student Athletes Reflect on Passing of Kobe Bryant

"Tomorrow is not promised, so they need to do things today."

Brendan Keany
January 27, 2020 - 8:05 pm

BUFFALO (WBEN) - In a high school gym more than 2,500 miles away from Los Angeles, the Sweet Home varsity basketball team finished its Monday afternoon practice a mere 24 hours after learning of the sudden and tragic death of megastar Kobe Bryant.

If you drove from Buffalo to Los Angeles and back six times, Kobe would still have 3,643 more career points than the number of miles you drove.

"It's unbearable; it's gigantic - it's something that's beyond basketball," said Head Coach Brandon Woods. "Kobe was such an icon as far as work ethic, as far as doing things the right way."

Kobe made "doing things the right way" an art form - a way of approaching life that Woods wants to instill in his own team as they navigate high school.

Although Kobe was more toward the middle/end of his career by the time juniors Silas Fairclough and Dominic Lewis were old enough to appreciate his greatness, the monumental nature of his death wasn't lost on their young minds, as legends transcend generations.

"I fell in love with Kobe when I was like 6 years old," said Fairclough. "I was a little kid watching him on the TV, going on YouTube and watching his highlights and stuff. I looked up to him."

"It kind of caught me off guard because it's Kobe - he's a hero," Lewis added. "You don't expect someone like him just to pass out of (nowhere)."

For Woods, Kobe's career directly lined up with the height of his fandom. As the story of the helicopter crash started to spill out in little bits across social media Sunday, Woods says he went from disbelief, to shock, to sadness.

"This is a very, very tough one for me personally because in my era growing up, I graduated in 2002, Kobe was my Michael," Woods began. "I was young enough where I remember seeing Michael play in his six championships, but I vividly remember all five (of Kobe's) championships from when I was a kid, all the way to my adulthood...This is probably one of the biggest icons in my lifetime...that struck a chord with me emotionally to the point where it brought me to tears as a grown man."

Of course, the layers of tragedy became even greater when we found out that Kobe's daughter Gianna, as well as seven other people, also perished in the crash.

As a father of three, Woods struggled to imagine his family in that position.

"That just broke me," he said. "If something was ever to happen to me and happen to one of my kids, and now my wife and the other two kids have to live without that, that's something that made me hug my daughter and hug my two boys tight."

In our younger years, we're often prone to that feeling of invincibility. Hell, as a 24-year-old writing this, death seems so distant a concept that it's impossible for me to fully comprehend the idea of finality. However, the death of Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter certainly provided enough of a shock for me to step back and re-examine priorities. For two high school basketball players with their whole lives in front of them, the suddenness of his death made them do the same.

"It kind of just shows you how fast life really comes at you," said Lewis. "One day you're just having fun with your family and friends, and then one day you might not ever see them again. It made me realize I've got to enjoy every second that I have; I've got to make the most out of everything that I can do...and just do what I can to make others around me happy and to make myself happy."

"It just goes to show you that you never know when one of your loved ones can leave you," said Fairclough. "When I saw on ESPN, it was Jay Williams, he was saying how if you've got beef with your family or if there's something going on, just squash it because it's still your loved ones. You never know when it's your last 'hello' or last 'goodbye.'"

Living for the moment.

As Fairclough mentioned, social media has been flooded with posts of sorrow, encouragement, inspiration, and unity as we all try to accept the fact that one of the icons of world culture is gone. Just like that. 

Kobe Bryant transcended basketball, and really, he transcended sports as a whole. The Mamba Mentality is an idea, and ideas never die.

"Put it in perspective," Woods began. "We keep talking about how we're fighting for our basketball lives over here at Sweet Home, which we are, but that's such a small thing. It's in the context of of what we're trying to do as a basketball team and as a family, we keep talking about family, but it's bigger than that. I try to tell these guys every day that you don't know when things are going to be taken from you...these kids can turn an ankle, mess up a knee, a car accident...they need to understand that tomorrow is not promised, so they need to do things today."

Listen to the full interview below:

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