As the nation mourns the loss of NBA icon Kobe Bryant, his tragic death on Sunday continues to leave those who knew him in a suspended state of disbelief.
Ric Bucher, a longtime NBA writer and now RADIO.COM Sports NBA Insider, covered Bryant throughout his entire 20-year career with the Lakers, from the time Bryant entered the draft as a 17-year-old out of Lower Merion High School up to his final season in 2016. For Bucher, the loss of Bryant has yet to set in.
"It was disbelief," Bucher told 106.7 The Fan's Grant & Danny of hearing the news. "This can't possibly be true, not of Kobe Bryant."
"And it was particularly personal for me because my teenage daughter, who plays basketball, was the one who first told me, 'Hey, did you see this Kobe news?'" he explained. "Because she knew that I knew Kobe well. She actually had never met him, but when she first started playing basketball along with her brother in elementary school, she exchanged video clips with Kobe.
"Kobe encouraging her and her brother to work on their game, but more important, to work on their school and not to give their dad a hard time. So she felt like she knew Kobe on some level. Even more recently in the last month or so, I sent Kobe a clip of my daughter working on a particular move, and he texted back, 'Hey, you need to move down here. You need to put her in the Mamba Academy.'"
"And we talked at one point and he was gonna have Gianna play my daughter one-on-one," he continued. "We just had a lot of exchanges like that that my daughter was well aware of, and so when it happened, an entire array of emotions – from thinking about this idea that Kobe's relationship with Gianna had come to a full stop; and my relationship with my daughter; and the feelings that Kobe and I had shared about our relative desire to teach not only our own kids, but every kid sort of the right way to play basketball."
"It was just a lot there," he said, "and to have all that kind of unfold yesterday... I'm still today, I was just telling my wife... Kobe and I, since he retired, I didn't spend a ton of time around him. We still obviously were in communication. It just does not seem real and I hit these jags every now and then when I think about all that he had in front of him, as I feel I hope I have in front of him, and to have that abruptly end yesterday just does not seem fair or fitting for the Kobe Bryant and the Kobe Bryant story as I knew it."
The heart of a nation skipped a beat on Sunday as news surfaced of Bryant's fatal helicopter crash. No one could have seen it coming, the demise of a basketball hero beloved so far and wide that it's been global news for the past 24 hours. There's no rhyme or reason why Bryant, 41, should have died with so much life to live. But what exactly is at the heart of Bryant's death being so impactful?
"Because for as great he proved to be, he also was very human on a very large platform," said Bucher. "We literally watched him grow up. We watched him make all sorts of mistakes. We watched him have discord with his coaches and his teammates, his wife. We saw him get into legal trouble. And we saw him survive. Not only survive, but overcome it all and achieve the dreams that he sought.
"And even going from playing, having this phenomenal career, to the typical struggle of every athlete after the shouting is over and they've got to hang it up, and they have to move on and they just can't do it. And he did it effortlessly, and he did it in a way that was giving back, sharing his love for basketball, writing inspirational children's books.
"I mean, the scope of his life was not perfect by any means, but there was this relentless desire to, 'I'm gonna overcome whatever's in front of me. I'm gonna find a way.' And I think people gravitated to that, they admired it, but they could also identify with it because he had many of the same trials and tribulations that we've all had at various times, and then shared the joy of a very simple thing."
"I really think that seeing all those things happen in his career, and then he moves on and, if not the Kobe Bryant – the fierce competitor – that we then see courtside talking with his daughter, sharing with her... it was very much an intimate father-daughter enjoying sharing something, a teachable moment," Bucher said. "And I think we can all connect with that. And to see Kobe like that, in that very human moment, and imagining what he had in front of him, and had it with all of his daughters and his family, and then to think that that all just came to an abrupt end; I believe that is what has made this resonate as strongly as it has."
America watched for more than two decades as Bryant grew from a teenager well into adulthood.
That his life ended as his post-NBA career was blossoming – when he could finally give his entire self to his family – is just tragic.