Bigger than basketball: TCU impacted by Bryant’s game, approach on life

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TCU women’s basketball players honor Gigi Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash on January 26. Photo by Heesoo Yang.

Over the past week, both TCU men’s and women’s basketball have had to prepare for competition with heavy hearts.

In the early afternoon of Sunday, Jan. 26, news broke that former Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash.

Eight others died in the accident, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.

The tragedy left millions across the globe heartbroken. Bryant was the “Black Mamba.” He was supposed to be invincible.

Shortly after the news broke, TCU guard R.J. Nembhard tweeted, “Lost for words man. My idol is gone.”

Guards Edric Dennis and Francisco Farabello also expressed their woes on social media, saying “no. no. no.” and “Day 1 without Kobe: I feel empty,” respectively.

“I had no words at the time,” center Kevin Samuel said the day after. “It’s not something you’d ever expect to see in a headline.”

Samuel went on to say he used to try to mimic Kobe’s moves as a young player growing up in the Caribbean.

Before TCU’s matchup with Texas Jan. 29, the Frogs warmed up in black and purple shirts with “Kobe” written on the front and the numbers 8 and 24 shown on the front and back.

After the game, guard Desmond Bane spoke on what it meant for them to play in Kobe’s honor.

“It’s huge,” Bane said. “I mean, a lot of us guys were just growing up when Kobe was entering the league and when he was in his prime. It’s great–being able to wear this shirt and, I guess, play for Kobe tonight, for all he’s meant to us and the basketball community.”

Kobe’s legacy went far beyond men’s basketball, though.

The TCU women’s basketball team had a game on the road against West Virginia just hours after Kobe’s death was announced.

Several Horned Frogs were seen with “RIP Mamba” written on their shoes in reverence to the future NBA hall-of-famer.

TCU women’s basketball head coach Raegan Pebley took to Twitter to commemorate the life of an all-time great.

Pebley coached at a clinic several years ago with Bryant. After the clinic, he invited her to watch him coach Gianna’s basketball team.

On Wednesday, Pebley emphasized the legacy Bryant left as a father even over the one he left as a basketball player.

“You really knew right away that he was completely present in his role as a dad and a coach,” Pebley said. “He loved what he was doing.”

Bryant, the father of four girls, had loved and attacked his role as a girl dad. Since his passing, thousands of fathers have posted pictures online with their daughters with the caption “#girldad.”

In this Feb. 14, 2016, file photo, Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant (24) hugs his daughter Gianna on the court in warm-ups before first half NBA All-Star Game basketball action in Toronto. Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and several others are dead after their helicopter went down in Southern California on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

TCU women’s basketball gave the first 200 dads in attendance Saturday against Kansas State a #girldad t-shirt.

Pebley also talked about the way Kobe was an ambassador for women’s basketball. While many keep their eyes on the men’s game alone, Kobe would often be seen at UConn Huskie games, WNCAA Final Fours and WNBA matchups.

Recently, these appearances happened with Gianna, as she was hoping to play for UConn someday.

Despite the grief and despair that fills every heart in America upon hearing about Kobe’s death, Pebley emphasized finally the tragedy was an opportunity to learn.

“It was a great opportunity to revisit what Mamba Mentality means,” Pebley said about Bryant’s passing. “It’s to be very intentional with everything that you’re doing; completely where your feet are; and elite in your actions, decisions and your thoughts.”

Regardless of your background, Bryant’s death was a tough pill to swallow. This was not just because of how good he was as a player, but how good of a man he was.

His five rings, MVP trophy and 33,643 points leave him as one of the greatest NBA players ever, but it was the lessons that Bryant taught us that expanded his legacy outside of America and outside of basketball.

He taught us to always work harder, to attack each and every part of our lives with the same amount of ferocity and to love the people and experiences in our life as much as we can while we have them.

It’s been a week, and we still miss you, Kobe. Rest in peace Black Mamba. You are gone but never forgotten.