It’s so easy to look up to celebrities in athlete, especially in the age of social media. They are more accessible than ever and it feels like you can really connect to them. You can peer in to their lives and idolize them because at some point everyone wants to be a star athlete or famous. Growing up though my dad always warned of making a celebrity or athlete a ‘hero’ because no matter what you see there’s always a private life.
My dad’s advice came from his own heartbreaking experience. As a Chicago Bears fan he grew up idolizing ‘Sweetness’ Walter Payton, but when he got older it came out Payton wasn’t the hero he thought. Payton had an illegitimate kid that he didn’t take care of. A prime case where he was shown a hero, but behind the veil it wasn’t as rosy as it seemed.
Having a job in the public eye, though I would never call myself a celebrity, this lesson from my father has begun to ring more clear. There is definitely a persona I live on air and people see, and despite the fact I live my life on air and always try to go behind the scenes on social media, there are probably things behind the mic and internet people wouldn’t like or would scrunch their face at.
Being a huge sports fan my entire life I’ve always followed sports anyway I could and still do. Then getting in radio, Hollywood news became a big part of what I do on air and just furthered the connection. Twitter is huge for sports and all athletes are on it. In college I loved being able to interact with Purdue athletes, and even on the rare occasion, playing video games with them online.
Celebrity deaths are a big part of being on air as you break the news and there are some that stand out, like Chester Bennington’s suicide. I remember Michael Jackson’s death and as a sports fan there was Roy Halladay’s sad airplane crash. All of them were sad but they didn’t stick with me. Kobe Bryant’s death hit differently for me.
Kobe Bryant joined the Lakers in 1996 when I was seven. As a Chicago Bulls fan this was when I really became an NBA fan because of the GOAT, Michael Jordan. I watched every playoff game of the last threepeat with my dad and then Jordan called it a career. After that is when Kobe and Shaq took over the NBA. For the generation after mine the Black Mamba was Jordan.
Bryant came to the NBA out of high school and grew up in front of sports fan’s eyes as he played for 20 years. For my NBA fandom he has always been around. Kobe was the face of the NBA, was the big player in video games and a prevalent face in social media. There’s his 81 point game, the championships, the rumors of him being traded to Chicago and the amazing last game. As a basketball fan there were so many moments that stand out. Let’s not forget throwing anything away and shouting ‘Kobe!’ as you did it.
I wouldn’t ever say Kobe was my favorite player, the Lakers are a common team fans hate, but he’s a Hall of Famer and always there. I never met Kobe, interviewed him or even saw him play, but there’s just a connection to the Mamba. His death is a tragedy, and a rarity. Just a few of the NBA’s MVPs over the last 50 years have passed away and Bryant died just after 40.
When the news broke this weekend I had no idea how to process it. My dad, brother and friends all asked me about it and I couldn’t say much about it. That Monday show I knew we had to cover it on the AJ & McCall Show, and we did, but I really had a hard time talking about it. I kept hoping it was another celebrity death hoax, but it wasn’t. For several days I just felt numb.
Kobe Bryant was transitioning so well in his post playing career, seemingly on a path similar to Magic Johnson to become a huge business mogul and billionaire. I believe Bryant would have done a lot of good for the world and all that’s gone, selfishly, that’s sad for the world. Kobe Bryant’s death just hit differently.
I took my father’s lesson about celebrity heroes to heart, but Kobe’s death will stay with me. Everyone should try to emulate his drive, the competitiveness, the ability to adapt and evolve and the fact that he went in wholeheartedly to whatever he was doing and comfort with the choices he made. Mamba Mentality.