Processing and expressing grief are very personal things based on one’s upbringing, temperament and ability to harvest whatever strength is left in their soul. There is no right or wrong way.
We have seen this dynamic play out steadfastly on a world stage since Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others lost their lives Sunday in the hillside crash of a helicopter transporting the group to a youth basketball game In Southern California.
We have been sympathetic and patient, content to allow the families of the victims to grieve in their own ways. From a respectful distance we’ve wanted them all to know how sorry we are, how unanimous we are in supporting them.
We are at a loss for words, unable to grasp the randomness and finality of it. We want them to know that we are there and we care.
On Wednesday, at different times and in different ways, we finally heard from those among the most central to the life of Bryant and his daughter – his wife, Vanessa Bryant, his team, the Los Angeles Lakers and one of his best friends, Kyrie Irving.
In her first public comment since the crash, Vanessa Bryant offered a poignant tribute to her husband and daughter in a long Instagram post.
“There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now,” Bryant wrote. “I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon.”
Bryant added her family was “completely devasted” and thanked the legion of fans who have done whatever possible in their own small way to convey their sympathies.
In a most poignant addition, Bryant announced the formation of a fund to help the other families impacted by the crash.
“I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them,” Vanessa Bryant said. “But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless – and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever.
“We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately.”
While other NBA teams had issued statements and choreographed public displays of admiration, the Lakers had remained quiet. Their game at Staples Center scheduled for Tuesday at Staples Center with the Clippers was postponed.
It was assumed we’d finally hear from the team on Wednesday following their practice in El Segundo, Calif. But instead of LeBron James stepping to the podium, the team decided it still wasn’t ready to talk about Bryant. So their coach, Frank Vogel, filled the void.
“We want to represent what Kobe was about, more than anything,” Lakers Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud, and that’s not going to be any different now. We’ve become a family in a very short time.
“It’s something that we talk about in the NBA with your teams, but this group in particular has really grown to love each other very rapidly, and we understand the importance and the opportunity we have this year. This has just brought us closer together.”
The Lakers return to action Friday at Staples Center against the Trail Blazers and that should be the time when we hear from the players.
“It’s been something that has touched my family, being the father of daughters, and it’s been very emotional,” Vogel said. “It’s something that brings us together. I’m around the people who were closest to Kobe throughout his time here, and it’s been just a deeply saddening time for all of us.
“He was the most feared man in the league for an entire generation. His influence is found league-wide, in basketball league-wide, and the Lakers family worldwide.”
Meanwhile, Bryant served as Irving’s mentor. The two were incredibly close from the moment he entered the league for the first time in Cleveland. If was Irving who famously made a video in 2012, one year after he was drafted, trying to goad Bryant in a friendly way into a one-on-one.
“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” Irving said Wednesday. “I had that mentorship relationship with him, where I was able to ask him almost anything. You know no matter how nervous I was or how fearful I was, he was just easy to approach with those type of questions about what goes on in the day-in and day-out basis of chasing something that’s bigger than yourself and when you’re trying to leave a legacy or something of a mark on a game.”
One of the main topics Irving sought guidance about how to best manage his relationship with James when they were together in Cleveland. Irving knew how long it took for Bryant’s friendship with Shaquille O’Neal to mesh when they were leading the Lakers to titles.
After sitting out the Nets game against the Knicks earlier this week because of his grief, Irving reappeared in Brooklyn against the Pistons wearing Kyrie 3 “Mamba Mentality” sneakers
“Our relationship was so much deeper than basketball,” Irving said. “For me, it’s a lot of grieving going on. I’m just paying my respects. I know in the next coming days it will be some more news and things that are going to be done to commemorate the lives lost.”