The untimely passing of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other souls has caused a ripple effect throughout the world of sports. Yankees players, both past and present, shared their grief and condolences.
Kobe Bryant was a transcendent figure that touched people from all walks of life. Even if you never watched the man play basketball, you’ve witnessed the outpouring of emotion following news of his death on Sunday. Yankees great, Derek Jeter, put his friendship with Bryant into words in a tribute he wrote for The Players’ Tribune.
"All I ever needed to know about Kobe Bryant was this: that throughout our friendship, the most meaningful conversations we had — they were always about family… I want to give my deepest condolences to Vanessa and the rest of the Bryant family, and to the families of the other passengers. Tragedies like this have a cruel way of reminding us of what’s important in life: spending time with our loved ones, and being there for them no matter what.Rest in peace to Gianna Bryant. Rest in peace to the other passengers on board.And rest in peace to Kobe Bryant — who knew that his life was only as important as the love he had for the people in it. Who knew that he was born to play basketball. But it was family over everything."
Bryant, who invested in Jeter’s media platform in December 2014, drew interesting parallels to The Captain. Both played 20 years for one team in a major market. The pair were respective leaders on their teams across five world championships, were as successful in retirement as they were during their illustrious playing careers, and deeply rooted family men.
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Only last week, Jeter was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame — Bryant will receive a similar honor this April when he is announced as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Alex Rodriguez has posted a series of tweets and photographs, illustrating the relationship he and Bryant shared.
"We met as teenagers. We followed similar paths. We went from high school to the pros and our baby girls grew up together. People don’t know this, but he was my secret coach. He pushed me and motivated me, especially toward the end of my career when I needed him most."
An enormous fan of the NBA, C.C. Sabathia, posted a photo of Bryant in memoriam with the caption “Unreal,” and used the praying emoji.
Yankees infielder Tyler Wade tweeted what many of us were first thinking, “Tell me the Kobe news isn’t real…”
Robinson Cano wrote, “Heartbreaking. RIP Kobe and Gianna. My thoughts & prayers to the entire Bryant family.”
Of close personal connection to Aaron Judge was John Altobelli, the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, CA. Sadly, the 56-year-old Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa, were also passengers on the helicopter.
Judge’s reaction via Twitter was absolutely heart-wrenching, “This isn’t real.”
Altobelli, who was entering his 24th season as head coach of OCC, winning more than 700 games and four state titles, coached Judge in the 2012 Cape Cod League for the Brewster Whitecaps.
According to Dan Martin of the NY Post, he and Judge stayed in contact ever since.
"“When he hit his first big-league home run [in 2016], I texted him to congratulate him,” Altobelli said in 2017. “He responded: ‘Coach, you’re the one who told me to swing the bat three times hard and see what happens.’ I know I didn’t have an impact on his career by any means, but it was good that he remembered me saying that. It’s neat to see his rise.”"
The passing of Kobe Bryant will forever be one of those moments in time that you’ll never forget exactly where you were when you heard the news. Learning those young girls were also on the helicopter makes the tragedy that much worse. As a new father, myself, a wave of nausea comes over me with each passing thought.
To my generation — early Millennials, Jeter and Bryant will forever be synonymous icons of their respective sports. We emulated their traits, wore their jerseys, and watched them achieve one almost impossible feat after the other.
I was fortunate enough to see Kobe in person twice. Once in Orlando, when he made scoring 44 points against the Magic look easy. The other, in Staples Center as a pseudo coach versus the Knicks as he recovered from his Achilles injury.
Both times, I watched in awe, because I knew what Kobe meant to the game of basketball and the effect he had on me as an aspiring ballplayer, fan of the game and budding sports writer.
Simply being in the same building as this legend, was a gift unto itself. I like so many others, are grateful for the memories Kobe Bryant bestowed upon us and wish the families directly affected by this tragedy my sincerest condolences.