(Photo illustration by Jake Weir/B&W Staff)

Edit desk: The great equalizer

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Eli Fraerman

Three. Two. One.

BUZZZZZ.

The sound of a buzzer rang through the AT&T Center, as it had done during every San Antonio Spurs game. Usually synonymous with a substitution, the end of a quarter, or a shot-clock violation, the buzzer is heard so frequently by NBA fans that its loud and drawn-out sound generally fails to cause even the slightest flinch.

But on this occasion, the buzzing sound screeched through the arena, slicing through to the nosebleeds. It pierced through the walls of the stadium, spilling into the streets outside.

It wasn’t any louder than usual, but it stung stronger than ever. On Sunday, Jan. 26, that sound shook through the world. Kobe Bryant had died.

Yet the business of the NBA didn’t stop. Just a few hours after the initial report of Bryant’s and his daughter Gianna’s death, the San Antonio Spurs took the floor against the Toronto Raptors, with several more games to follow. NBA teams traded 24-second shot clock violations throughout the night to honor Bryant, although the reality that he was gone had barely started to sink in.

Standing ovations followed and “Kobe” chants would ring throughout the crowds. It was ultimately a small gesture, but the shot-clock violations throughout the night served as a universal reminder of his legacy.

The players didn’t want to play. The fans may not have wanted to watch. But I believe that Kobe Bryant’s death showed us all the power of sports.

It is a game, and ultimately, a business. However, last Sunday was more than just basketball. While calls for game cancellations weren’t answered only the Lakers game scheduled for last Tuesday received a postponement the world stopped for a second, and everyone took notice. 

Fans cried. Players cried. People who had no connection to Bryant cried. If there was ever a case for sports as “the great equalizer,” this was it.

Sports have served as an emotional connection to me for as long as I can remember. It connected me to my late grandfather, sparked conversations with friends and caused me to spend hours and hours staring into the Chicago Tribune sports section.

I found myself rooting for the success of Philadelphia sports, even as a Chicago fan, just because I wanted to see my grandfather happy. 

I get emotional just thinking about the Chicago White Sox being relevant again. It seems rather silly on the surface, but for whatever reason, it really does mean something to me. Maybe it’s the memory of my dad taking me to my first game many years ago. I’m not entirely sure. But I definitely know who I’d be making a call to first if they ever win another World Series.

I have been drawn to sports for the majority of my life. I grew up idolizing Chicago athletes such as Paul Konerko, Derrick Rose and Brian Urlacher. I wanted to be like them.

Last Sunday reminded us that these athletes are hardly bigger than ourselves. There is a humanity to professional sports and Kobe Bryant reminded us all that even someone with a stature like him can be gone in a flash.

So why do we root so fervently for the success of fellow human beings we may never meet? Somehow, someway, it unites us. Time and time again.

The night before Bryant’s death, Lebron James passed him for third on the all-time scoring list. Referring to the accomplishment after the game, Bryant’s former teammate, Dwight Howard, said to a reporter that people don’t appreciate the humanity of each other as much as they should. He said that people should be appreciated more for their accomplishments while they’re alive. 

Howard, the origin of several Kobe Bryant feuds from his disastrous 2012-2013 season, proved to be one of the most unlikely sources of advice in the wake of Bryant’s death. It didn’t catch much attention that night, but hours later, it proved prophetic.

In the world of sports, we didn’t realize what we had until it left us.

Last Sunday showed us that sports can be both a business and a unifier. At the end of the day, Kobe Bryant was just one of us. 

Now, he’s gone. And you felt it.

Eli Fraerman, ’21, is a deputy sports editor for the Brown and White. He can be reached at [email protected]

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