“I just lost it,” Redcross, a senior forward on the Northeastern women’s basketball team who is injured, recalled Wednesday. As she sat watching the second half from the bench, she kept the horrible news to herself in order to not distract her teammates.
“I cried at halftime,” said Redcross, whose reaction was shared by millions of Bryant’s fans around the world. “But then I got it together, because we needed to focus.”
Bryant, the five-time NBA champion of the Los Angeles Lakers, died that morning in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. All nine people on board were killed, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
The news of Bryant’s shocking death at age 41 reverberated throughout both of the basketball locker rooms at Northeastern. Bill Coen, coach of the men’s team, began practice on Monday by asking his players to talk about Bryant and what he meant to them.
“He’s an iconic, impactful personality on a global level, and about as recognizable as anybody in recent memory,” Coen said. “We just opened up the discussion to see how they were feeling about it, what his life meant, and how can we learn from this? Is it just a day in the news, or is it going to have a profound lasting effect on you individually. And we talked about the man he was—he wasn’t perfect.”
Bryant was a hero to many, but an incident in 2003 cast a shadow over his legacy. He was charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman who worked as a concierge at a hotel in Edwards, Colorado. The accuser was unwilling to testify, and her lawsuit with Bryant was settled privately. Afterward, Bryant apologized to the woman in a public statement that acknowledged her point of view that their encounter had not been consensual.
“He was a flawed man,” acknowledged Northeastern women’s basketball coach Kelly Cole. “I think he built his life forward from making mistakes.”
Bryant, who had four daughters, became a proponent of women’s sports. He attended and supported women’s basketball, and recently suggested that at least three women currently in the WNBA had the ability to play in the NBA. Northeastern athletic director Jeff Konya met Bryant at the 2018 NCAA Women’s Final Four.
“He was very gracious,” Konya said. “He was very open about how he liked the women’s game. He said he had a choice between the Final Fours, and he wanted to go to the women’s [tournament].”
“I think all of us in women’s basketball were looking at him, saying, here’s somebody that’s going to help raise the visibility,” Cole said. “I think it’s tragic for women’s basketball.”
Bryant’s global fame helped raise the popularity of basketball beyond the borders of the U.S. Junior guard Shaquille Walters shares the first name of Bryant’s frenemy and Lakers teammate Shaquille O’Neal, with whom Bryant won three NBA championships before an infamous break-up that resulted in O’Neal’s 2004 trade to the Miami Heat. But Walters sided with Kobe, who was the first player he can remember watching as a boy in London. Walters wears No. 24 for the Huskies because it was Bryant’s number.
“The talent and the hard work,” Walters says of why he has been influenced by Bryant. “I’m proud of myself for working hard, for trying to get better every day, being the best version of yourself—and Kobe personifies that.”
Junior guard Myles Franklin grew up in Orange County, California, where Bryant lived. He attended Bryant’s basketball camp as a child and came away with a signed Bryant jersey and a photograph of himself with the star. He was devastated by the news.
“Then I heard about his daughter, and that made it way, way worse,” Franklin says. “The rest of the day was a blur.”
Franklin has grown up to be a shooting guard, like Bryant. He bought Bryant’s sneakers and defended him every time someone argued that LeBron James is a superior player.
“I did break down in some tears, thinking about his family,” Franklin says. “I was thinking about my family, and how would it affect me if I was in that situation. It was a fresh wound.”
Franklin was overcome with emotion and had to cut short his remarks at the team meeting on Monday. Coen attempted to turn the discussion into an opportunity to learn from Bryant’s ultimate goal of winning at all costs.
“We talked about the dash,” says Coen, referring to the space between Bryant’s birth year of 1978 and his premature death in 2020. “What does that dash mean? What do you want people to say about your dash, and how do you want to live your life? Will it be as impactful and intention as Kobe’s was at the end.”
Coen recalled an afternoon when Bryant, on a trip to Boston near the end of his career with the Lakers, was in need of a cold pool to help him prepare physically for a game against the Celtics. He found one at Northeastern.
“News began to spread, and everybody found their way into the training room to grab a peek,” Coen says. “He was just so gracious, sitting there as almost every Northeastern athlete came by to say hello and get a handshake.”
Coen’s current Huskies have lost four games in the Colonial Athletic Association by two points each. On Monday, he asked his players to think about the little things that can make all of the difference. He wanted them to learn from Bryant, who in the latter years of his career had become a generous mentor to many young NBA players.
“We’re looking to get one possession better,” Coen says. “How do we use a life event like this to really inspire us to be more focused, more intentional? Because we all believe that will produce greater results.”