June 8, 2020

For fans, death of a beloved athlete is personal

Andrew Golden

The ESPN Sports Center special on Len Bias this week made me reflect on the effect that the death of athletes can have on the sports world. I remember where I was earlier this year when I found out that Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. I had just finished playing pick-up basketball when my friends told me the news and I wouldn’t believe it. Even though I was not a big fan of the Lakers or Kobe, I was shaken up all day and couldn’t bring myself to do anything. Other than family members who passed away, I probably have not been as upset at the news of a death as I was with Kobe. My mom said she felt that way about Len Bias’ death. Growing up in Prince George’s County, my mom, like the rest of that community, was proud of Len Bias and his accomplishments. When she found out about his death–just two days after the Boston Celtics made him the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft–she said she cried all day and was unable to come to terms with it. Speaking on the Sports Center special, Jay Bilas seemed to feel the same way. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget the feeling of when I learned that he had died,” Jay Bilas said. “I think it was my equivalent for my generation of the Kennedy Assasination.” That quote really struck me, and put into perspective the impact of Bias’ death. The special made me realize how just captivating athletes can be because of what they make us feel. For my mom, it was a sense of pride through Bias. For me, it was a feeling of dominance when I watched Kobe. And for sports fans everywhere, there is that awful feeling when you realize the athletes you have idolized are not invincible.

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