A surreal day at the XL Center
HARTFORD – Like anyone covering a game, I have my own routines that I’ve developed in 18 years on the job.
When a game is over, I pack up my stuff, watch the players leave the playing surface (you never know what may happen after a game), and then head over to either the locker rooms or pressroom for media availability.
On Sunday at XL Center, I was going through that simple routine following UConn’s overtime loss to Tulsa. The press seats are right next to the tunnel where the Huskies’ locker room is located. After watching Dan Hurley head in to a nice ovation, I picked up my stuff, refreshed Twitter on my phone and there was the news from TMZ: Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter accident.
Obviously, it was shocking news, but to me, it was even more because many of us had just saw his tweet the night before congratulating LeBron James for passing him on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. And just like that, he’s gone.
The shock on the faces of people in the pressroom finding out for the first time will always stick with me. Similar to the reaction on Twitter, some wondered if the post was a hoax. Sadly, it wasn’t. Yes, the news is still fresh, however, I cannot think of a more shocking sports death. I wasn’t born yet when Thurman Munson passed away in a plane crash, but I imagine it felt quite similar then.
For those in the basketball community, from players to fans to media, Kobe was one of those “first name” players. Michael, Magic, Larry, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron – no last names needed. You know exactly who they are. To see one of them die so young and so unexpectedly is numbing. After getting home from the game, I wandered around the house seemingly forever trying to process this before finally sitting down to write.
In recent years, Kobe’s local ties to our area grew with his affinity for the UConn women’s basketball team despite living 3,000 miles away. He became friends with Geno Auriemma and even appeared on Geno’s podcast at the end of 2017. Kobe’s daughter, Gianna, also passed away in the crash at only 13. Her dream was to play for UConn, with Kobe famously telling Reggie Miller on camera that she was “hell-bent on UConn” instead of their local university and Reggie’s alma-mater, UCLA.
Last season, Kobe and Gianna attended a UConn-Houston game at Gampel Pavilion. Known for his meticulous focus when it came to basketball and all of his numerous off-the-court passions, it was no surprise that he had a strong grasp of UConn’s history. When asked by SNY what attracted his daughter to the school, he showcased that knowledge.
“The players first and foremost,” Bryant said. “The camaraderie that they have with each other is something she gravitated to. And then Geno, and CD (Chris Dailey), and their leadership and the culture of the program – all the way down to Rebecca (Lobo), Diana (Taurasi), and Sue (Bird). She loves the program.”
And he loved the style of play they brought to the game.
“They play a games that’s together,” he said. “Individually, they all have brilliant things that they do, but they sacrifice those individual brilliant things for a team effort, from how they move the ball, how they move off the ball, how they screen for each other, defensively how they scheme well for each other. That’s a lost art and, to be honest with you, it’s a lost art in the NBA game.”
Just as any parent, he was enjoying watching his kids grow up and excited for their futures. If anyone needed a reminder how quickly you can lose that all, this is a tragic reminder.
For me, it was hardly a routine day at the arena. It’s a day I know I’ll never forget.