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Columns, Opinions

Han ’23: On Kobe: As a Celtics fan, and as a daughter

By
Staff Columnist
Sunday, February 9, 2020

On Sunday, Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash. My heart stopped when my friend texted me with the news that he was gone. The world wasn’t prepared to deal with this — perhaps the greatest sports tragedy ever. If it took me, a lifelong Kobe hater, a week to even begin to process the news, I cannot imagine how it hit his personal family and friends, as well as those who had spent their entire lives as his fans. In the days that followed, it seemed as though every basketball player and every sportswriter on the planet had a moving tribute to Kobe. Countless other famous people, from Miles Teller to Patrick Mahomes, attested to his boundless curiosity, tireless work ethic and incomparable influence on their lives and careers.

When I read these tributes, I realized that there were a lot of contrasting opinions about Kobe’s life and legacy. On one hand, there were testaments to his greatness as a basketball player, his post-retirement endeavors and the ways he inspired an entire generation of kids. On the other hand, there were columns that insisted we remember the harm he inflicted upon his accuser. But nonetheless, it is still understandable to grieve his death, even though we may have conflicting feelings about his legacy.

I didn’t love Kobe Bryant. In fact, I hated him. As an ardent Boston Celtics fan inspired by the classic 1980s Celtics-Lakers rivalry, I opposed him for two NBA finals matchups and countless iconic moments. I shed tears of happiness when we beat him in 2008 as he wilted under the pressure against Boston’s “Big Three,” and I wallowed in a deep and empty sadness when he got his revenge in 2010. I completely bought into the counternarrative that he was a knock-off Jordan, a ball hog, a selfish teammate and a failed leader. Add my personal qualms with his off-court behavior — namely the credible accusation of rape against him in 2003 — and I was one of the  biggest anti-Kobe fans in the NBA.

When it finally came time for him to retire, it was decidedly bittersweet. As fun as it was to root for the Celtics, it made it all the better to beat the Lakers. And while the Celtics quickly reinvented themselves as their stars aged, the Lakers chose to invest all of their resources into Kobe during his final few years rather than plan for the future. During the years after Kobe’s retirement, it almost seemed as though the Lakers’ golden years had retired with him, and there’s no fun in rooting against one of the worst teams in the league. As much as I would have denied it, it was true: Kobe’s best years were also my best years as an NBA fan.

I didn’t follow Kobe during retirement as closely as the Lakers fans in my life did, but I still followed the league closely enough to see his interview with ESPN in which he said that he didn’t need a son to carry on his basketball legacy because he had his daughter, Gianna. The cynical part of my brain was unconvinced by the loving “girl dad” act; along with his expressed support for the WNBA, it all seemed like a perfectly packaged, faux-feminist coverup for his past transgressions. But my sentimental side was moved by the expression on his face. It was the same look on my own father’s face when I aced a chemistry test, when I finished a great essay and when I got into Brown — that look of inexpressible pride and incomparable love.

Unlike Kobe, my father did not pass down his basketball fandom to me; to this day, I doubt that he even knows which team I cheer for. But no one would relate more to Kobe’s “girl dad” pride than my father. Historically, Korean families such as my own have valued sons over daughters, for the same reason that many NBA players might — to carry on the family name and legacy. But my father always wanted a daughter. He never made me feel as though I was any less responsible for my family than a son would have been. He raised me to be as brave, independent and wise as he could, and he sacrificed constantly to provide me with everything I needed to pursue my dreams successfully. And when I did, he looked at me with that same expression. Much like Gianna, I strived to live in a way that would justify my dad’s choice to value me as much as any son. I lived to make him proud. I still do.

Without a doubt, the single most devastating part of the tragedy for me was the loss of his daughter. Kobe, even though he passed at the young age of 41, had lived a fuller life than most. His story is incredibly complicated, as a person if not as a basketball legend, but hers was yet to be written. Fellow NBA player Draymond Green said it best: in his final moments, Kobe was probably trying to comfort his daughter and tell her that everything was going to be fine, because “as a father, you can’t even show your child that you don’t think it’s okay.” That is what truly crushes me about this unbelievable tragedy — the relatable story of the strength of the bond between a father and his daughter, which mattered more than ever in their final moments.

I didn’t know Kobe. I didn’t root for him, I didn’t idolize him, I didn’t love him. As a basketball fan, I despised him and the superstar mentality he embodied. As a person, I still believe that his personal legacy is fatally flawed, and that in the wake of his sudden death, we should be careful not to romanticize him or gloss over his many off-court failings. As one survivor of sexual assault put it, “Survivors need to make sure that our stories are not erased again and again to lift up powerful men’s legacies.” But as my father’s only daughter, my heart aches when I think about how I know exactly what it is like to be my father’s pride and joy, even though I’m “just a daughter.” I know exactly what my father would have done in a situation like a helicopter ride gone terribly wrong: He would have given up anything to protect me. And although I don’t know what actually happened in that helicopter, the most guileless part of me believes that Kobe did the same.

The NBA misses him. The sports world misses him. LA grieves for him. We didn’t all know him, and we don’t all agree with all of his choices. Certainly, I do not. But his passing still hurt me deeply and personally. And that’s okay too.

Bliss Han ’23 can be reached at bliss_han@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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