Sam Landstra — Staff Writer
On the afternoon of January 26, freshman Diane Hurst was putting up shots in the DeWitt Gymnasium after church. Shooting around helps clear her head.
A daughter of a marine, Hurst traveled often in her childhood. Whether it was in Japan or in her hometown of Lampasas, Texas, basketball always remained a constant. Her father played on the USMC basketball team; her mother and siblings balled too.
“It was never a question of wanting to play basketball,” Hurst said. “I just always had a love for the game.”
As a kid, she remembers watching ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries and Kobe Bryant highlights with her brother, who idolized the Lakers legend.
After practicing, Hurst headed to the locker room. She checked her phone to see a Snapchat story posted by a friend with the caption, “R.I.P. Kobe.” Probably in reference to something else, she thought. But then there was another, and another again. When she returned to her dorm, her TV confirmed the tragedy. At 41 years old, Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. His daughter Gianna, along with seven others, had passed away too.
“I was in shock,” Hurst said. “You just don’t think that can be possible.”
Disbelief resonated throughout the afternoon. Basketball stars, cultural icons, and common fans of the game expressed their grief on social media. Stories of inspiration and appreciation for Bryant turned feeds into a purple and gold memorial.
It was a “where-were-you-when” moment in the worst way imaginable for Dordt University Men’s Basketball coach Brian Van Haaften. He was watching TV, preparing to study the Jamestown v. Midland game.
“Oh man… I got chills,” Van Haaften said. “Being around this game as long as I have, you realize those people are rare.”
Van Haaften rooted for the Lakers since he was a boy. He was there for Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the Showtime Lakers in the 80s. When Bryant resurrected the franchise at the turn of the century, he was there for that too.
He also can tell you exactly where he was when Derek Fisher hit a fadeaway jumper with .4 seconds left against the Spurs in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals in 2004. (In a hotel room with three friends after 36 holes of golf at a tournament in Omaha.)
“It was about Kobe, but it was more than that,” Van Haaften said. “He wanted to help guys be better players.”
On the following Monday morning, Dordt theology professor Dr. Justin Bailey reflected on the passing of the iconic athlete in his aesthetics class.
“We lost a great artist in history,” Bailey said, framing the tragedy within the context of the class. A moment of silence and prayer for those affected followed.
Bailey had lived in Los Angeles for four years and witnessed firsthand the impact Bryant had on the city. Although a Michael Jordan and Chicago Bulls fan himself, he always respected Bryant for his “legendary” work ethic. His life paralleled Bryant’s too, only three years apart from each other and both with young children.
“We sort of grew up together in some sense,” Bailey said. “I just feel some sort of solidarity with him as a parent.”
After retirement, Bryant channeled all the energy he put into his career into the lives of his daughters. When his helicopter crashed on the way to his daughter, Gianna’s, basketball game, he died doing the thing he loved most: being a dad.
“A lot of times fathers have a hard time relating to their daughters after they reach a certain age,” Bailey said. “I was really cool to see how invested he was in his kids’ lives.”
The image of Bryant alongside Gianna carried weight. While young men looked up to Zaire Wade or Bronny James, the sons of Dwayne Wade and Lebron James, Hurst had Gianna. Countless other aspiring female basketball players did too.
“He was so proud to be a girl dad, and he just showed that girls can play basketball too,” Hurst said.
With the sadness of Bryant’s death still lingering overhead, Hurst prepared for her game against Dakota Wesleyan that night.
She wrote “8,” “24,” and the words “rest in peace Kobe” on the sides of her shoes. It would have been easy to sit out the game and mourn for the loss of a role model, but she pressed on because Bryant would do the same.
“He always preached the Mamba Mentality,” Hurst said. “I just try to play more basketball because I don’t know when my last time is.”
When an individual of cultural significance passes away, especially at a young age, a procession of lamenters seems to emerge from the woodwork and grieve for the loss. Some criticize this pattern as overblown or fake. Yet Bailey feels otherwise.
“It’s okay to grieve lives we feel deeply connected to,” Bailey said. “[It] underestimates the power pop culture icons have on people and giving people heroes.”
Hurst, Van Haaften, and Bailey never met Kobe but found inspiration and oneness through their roles as basketball players, coaches, fans, and fathers.
In getting up at the crack of dawn to practice free throws or watching film into the late hours of the night, or driving sons and daughters to sporting events, they felt they knew him. We all did.