In 2013, I stood outside in the Bronx sobbing. I’m not being dramatic either. Actually sobbing. I cried on the train ride home and then I got home and cried more in my bed.
In 2014, I once again found myself sobbing – except this time it was in the privacy of my own home. I think I went through half a box of tissues in thirty minutes.
Did I experience two major losses two years in a row? YES. But not in the way you might assume.
Mariano Rivera retired in 2013. I had the privilege of attending his last game at Yankee Stadium, so to be fair, I wasn’t the only person crying in the Bronx that night. Then, in case I hadn’t experienced enough heartbreak, Derek Jeter hung up his bat in 2014. My normally stealth ticket getting skills failed me that night, so I watched his last magical moment in the Bronx on my couch hoping that my now husband wouldn’t think I was completely insane and call off the wedding. (Spoiler: he didn’t. He gave me lots of hugs. He’s great.)
This is where I reassure everyone who didn’t grow up watching and falling in love with sports that I am not emotionally unstable.
I spent 20 years watching Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera play. To this day, I don’t think I’ve done anything else for that long – ever. I grew up with them. I watched them win on TV from far away in Arizona (yes, I lived there in 2001. Send flowers, still not over it). I moved back to New York and they won again the first full year I was here. Not a coincidence at ALL! I stood at Yankee Stadium three days in a row to watch Jeter get his 3000th hit and it was absolutely worth it. So yeah, when they retired, I cried. A piece of my childhood, of my life, was ending.
This is why, despite not being a big basketball fan (or Lakers fan, hello, I’m from New York), I really felt for Kobe Bryant fans when he passed.
I can’t even imagine. I was that distraught when my people were retiring. If they had passed away? Nope. Nothing would be okay.
Kobe made a lasting impact on so many people, but I know there are also complicated feelings about some other parts of his history. You might love him, you might hate him, or even feel nothing at all – and that’s okay. You feel how you feel. Instead, it’s about the question that I kept seeing all over social media – “Is this weird? Why am I so upset? I didn’t even know him”.
Except, you did.
Sport has this crazy, ridiculous, irrational, and beautiful way of uniting us. We experience heartache and pure joy – sometimes all in one night, sometimes surrounded by thousands of other strangers. I’m in my 30’s and my heart still breaks in the same way it did when I was 10 after a season suddenly ends. Playoffs are still the most exciting time of the year. At the center of all of that are the players – especially when they stick around one team for years of your life.
Fellow sports fans, you get me. Think of your best sports fan moment – the one that you’ll tell your grandkids about. Now think of the worst one (I know, I’m sorry). Those players are there. Those are people who were a part of some of your best and worst memories. And you wonder why you grieve them when they’re gone? Seems pretty obvious to me.
Your stranger but not a stranger didn’t know you but they’re a part of your story. An important part of your story.
When a chapter of our story ends, it’s sad. It can be devastating. It’s not necessarily logical, but it’s so real. Not that you need it, but consider this permission to feel your feels and experience all the grief. Whether it’s for Kobe, or someone else, it’s okay. You have every right to be sad and to need time to process.
Relationships with other people don’t always look the same. Sometimes it’s sharing parts of your day with them – eating dinner, grabbing coffee, going on vacation. Sometimes it’s phone calls, text messages, and Instagram DMs filled with fun memes. And sometimes, relationships are built over years of cheering, crying, and screaming at a television or into the abyss of a huge sports venue.