How do you describe the news on Sunday that horrified a nation and shocked us all?
The report on television was straight forward and stark: NBA icon Kobe Bryant, arguably one of the three or four greatest players to ever play in the NBA, was killed in a helicopter crash in Malibu, Calif. The initial report said there were four other unidentified victims.
I don’t know how you felt, but for some reason the news stunned and saddened me. I instantly wanted to hear more. Then came the unconfirmed report that the four others killed in the crash were his four daughters.
“Oh no!” I gasped. As I tried to digest the news, I began to doubt the report because the fatalities would have to include the pilot, so I expected a revised update. Then came the horrible confirmation that one of the victims was in fact Kobe’s 13-year old daughter. Later, the real truth came out and listed the other victims, including the pilot and five other people who were going to a travel basketball game at the Mamba Academy Bryant owned. In the blink of an eye, three other families were devastated in the crash.
It appeared that time had stopped on Sunday as the world focused on the deadly crash in California. I heard a radio reporter say that the passing of Kobe Bryant would be like the day John F. Kennedy was shot: everyone would remember what they were doing and where they were when they heard the news.
That comment had a profound effect on me, and I pondered it for a while. In the realm of sports, this was one of the most shocking in events in sports history. Kobe was well known throughout the world and was one of the biggest promoters of women’s sports. As was pointed out to me, for people under 25 this may be the most shocking thing that has ever happened in their lifetime.
As tragic as the event was, I thought there were a couple of more impactful events in my life. After I heard the radio reporter prattle on and on about his theory, I tried to discern for myself what other events have been more seminal to history and impactful on our lives.
Immediately, I thought of the John Kennedy assassination. Everyone who was alive knows exactly where they were when the news flash came out of Dallas. I was in elementary school and I remember the principal coming into our classroom and whispering something in our teacher’s ear. She put her hand over her mouth and immediately had tears streaming down her cheek. After she composed herself, she told all of us to gather up our belongings and put on our coats because we were going home early. As in right now.
I lived two blocks from the school, so I walked home happy that we got out of school early. When I walked in the back door, my mom and grandmother rushed over and grabbed me tightly. “What is going on Momma?” I innocently asked. She choked out the words “They’ve killed President Kennedy!”
Even though I was a young boy, I realized something was amiss. I went into the living room and huddled around the television with my grandparents, my aunt Gloria and my uncle Johnny. My aunt Gloria was crying really hard. She got up off the couch and went into her bedroom. She came out with a Polaroid picture in her hand. She had me sit on her lap and then showed me the picture.
It was a picture she had taken months before of President Kennedy when he came to Grand Rapids for a rally. My aunt had to have been up close as it was a great picture of him. I immediately felt awful. A few days later, we were coming home from church and my dad was driving. “Some one is going to shoot that guy!” he proclaimed. Not five minutes later, the radio blurted out another news flash: Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot in Dallas. My dad pulled the car over and just pounded the steering wheel with his hand. It was a time I will never forget.
Another transformative event of even greater magnitude was 9-11, the blowing up of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I was on my way to work listening to the morning broadcast on WJR Radio out of Detroit. Then came the flash: a plane had crashed into one of the towers. I called my ex-wife who was at home and asked her what was going on and what the weather was like in New York. During World War II a plane had flown into the Empire State Building, but it was a foggy day. When she told it was a perfectly clear day and the damage looked extensive, I knew something was wrong.
As soon as I got to the office, I went to the newsroom to see what was going on. To my surprise, all the TVs were turned off in the newsroom. I turned one of them on, and as soon as I saw the images, I was horrified. Soon, most of the newspaper staff was in the newsroom watching events unfold when we saw the second plane hit the tower. People were horrified, some started crying and others were speechless.
I knew instantly this was not an accident, that we were under a different type of attack. I called the owner of the company and told him we were under attack, and he quickly agreed. We called in all the staff and went to work on covering the story from both a national perspective and from a local impact.
We put out a great edition, but everyone was disturbed, heart-broken, angry—the whole gamut of emotion. It was a day that will live in infamy, much like Pearl Harbor. It is a day I hope we never have to relive again.