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Processing the death of Kobe Bryant through the lens of a Suns fan

PHOENIX - MAY 29: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks at head coach Alvin Gentry of the Phoenix Suns after a play in the fourth quarter of Game Six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at US Airways Center on May 29, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Lakers defeated the Suns 111-103 to advance to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Phoenix Suns open up the media entrance to Talking Stick Resort Arena two and a half hours before the start of a game.

That’s right around when players will start out their pregame work on the court, and to my disbelief when I first had a credential, media could sit courtside to watch.

When I was younger, I used to fail at convincing my dad to let us show up an hour later when all fans are allowed in, so we could watch those warmups from our seats. I loved it then and I love it even more now.

Two years ago, I saw Vince Carter on the Sacramento Kings cursing loudly at himself missing a 30-footer in his shooting set and the next one even worse. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and made the next five in a row.

That’s just pure basketball to me. A future Hall of Famer still trying to get himself right in a minimal role on a bad team.

On Monday, I was sitting in those courtside seats and a member of the San Antonio Spurs was getting passes fed to him for some baseline jumpers.

After one shot, there was a miscommunication and he had two balls thrown at him at once. He caught one and the other one whizzed right off my leg. I tried to react in time and failed to, just like I failed to play it cool and not be embarrassed with professionals looking on.

When I looked up, an assistant coach gave me a jokingly puzzled face pointing at the other coach who was throwing the passes, passing blame as if to suggest, “What a doofus. What’s his problem?” I laughed, he smiled and that little two seconds made me not feel dumb.

That was Tim Duncan, who called quits on terrorizing my life, I mean, playing in the NBA four seasons ago.

Through clinging on to every moment of Suns basketball over my life as a fan of the team before starting to cover them, I learned to respect players like Duncan despite the embarrassingly undeniable hatred I felt for them in my teens.

But that was The Big Fundamental, one of the easiest all-time greats to tip your cap to.

I don’t think I ever got there with Kobe Bryant during his time playing against the Suns, and I’ve spent Sunday with time standing still as I remain stuck in a vortex of confusion after learning that he died in a helicopter crash with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter.

Kobe owned a seven-bedroom estate in Suns fans’ heads from the beginning of his career to the end, even with the victories the Suns had over him along the way.

The last grasp for Phoenix’s championship hopes in Kobe’s era was in the 2010 Western Conference Finals, and while the agonizing moment of bad luck that was Metta World Peace’s rebound in Game 5 hurt, Bryant eviscerated us in our own building for Game 6 to put a lid on Steve Nash’s title chase.

Bryant had 37 points, but he could have had only two to do the same damage he did with one shot. In a series-sealing bucket that adequately portrays the hopelessness of rooting against Kobe, Grant Hill played perfect defense on him with the Suns down five and needing a stop late in the fourth quarter.

Hill’s flawless defense didn’t matter, and Bryant slapped Alvin Gentry on the butt to let him, the Suns and their fans know, “Good try and better luck next time.”

Kobe having seemingly endless moments of dominance through the unrivaled passion he played with made him feel immortal.

I’m still unable to process his death, but I think that’s part of why it’s so shocking.

It’s something that those in the league and its community are still trying to wrap their heads around. It didn’t make sense for games to take place on Sunday, even on such short notice.

The Spurs and Toronto Raptors had the second game on the slate since the news, and most of it resembled a bad All-Star Game where there’s no energy or intensity on the court. Believe me, those players wanted to bring that staple of Kobe’s game into the one they were playing. It’s just too hard sometimes.

The Suns wound up playing as well. Like many of the games, they dedicated the first two possessions of it with a 24-second and eight-second violation to honor Bryant’s two numbers.

Devin Booker tried to hold back tears during that dedication, still managed to somehow score 36 points through the day one of his idols passed away and the Suns lost.

Like the day itself, the game didn’t feel real. How do you even take it as such? Monty Williams said after that there shouldn’t have even been one and he’s not wrong.

I love basketball and always will. I have felt many feelings while watching it and always will. And as a 29-year-old, Kobe has been a part of that experience for the better half of my life.

Like many fans today, that’s what has made his passing so difficult to comprehend.

It has been a jarring reminder that as much as I can personally admit that I welcome the distraction sports provide, that can only go so far before we’re brought back around to real life.

I was reminded of that when Duncan took a brief moment to be kind when I would have mean-mugged him on the street a decade prior and was reminded again with the death of Bryant.


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