VERDIGRIS — News of the death of Kobe Bryant on Sunday rocked the sports and entertainment worlds.
Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, was among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif.
But the trickledown effect of Bryant’s death was felt around the globe, including in Claremore and among athletes and coaches at Verdigris High School.
“I admired his mentality and work ethic,” Kylee McGuire, a senior on the girls basketball team said Tuesday night following the Cardinals’ home game against Hilldale.
“Those (traits) certainly have helped me to play basketball harder.”
McGuire said it was difficult to comprehend that the 20-year NBA veteran, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles, lost his life at age 41.
“It’s so sad that he died at such a young age,” she said
Fellow senior Brant Hager, a member of the Verdigris boys basketball team, said he was still impacted by Bryant’s death more than two days after the crash.
“I’m still in shock,” he said Tuesday night.
“It’s unreal that he is gone that fast,” Hager added about the Lakers great, who retired in 2016.
“He was so talented on the basketball court … a legend.”
Like McGuire, Hager cited Bryant’s mental approach to the game that allowed him to not only excel individually but also as part of a successful team effort.
“He was a great teammate,” Hager said. “He was able to make things better.”
Verdigris girls basketball coach Mike Buntin noted that Bryant’s death was “a huge loss in the sports world.”
“He was one of the greatest competitors of all time,” Buntin added.
Coaching his daughter’s basketball team was one way in which Bryant, after retiring from professional basketball, could contribute to the growth of women’s sports.
“He took time to work with women’s sports and women’s basketball,” Buntin said.
“As a father myself, I was impressed with the relationship he had with his daughter (Gianna),” said Buntin about Bryant, the father of four girls.
“When I heard the news of their deaths, it made me want to go and hug my two children.”
Buntin’s son, Aaron, is a sophomore on the Verdigris basketball team.
Likewise, Cardinals boys basketballcoach Chris Houk, also a parent, empathized with the Bryant family in the aftermath of the tragic crash.
“You never replace a dad,” Houk said. “It is a sad, sad situation. You feel for his wife and the kids.”
Beyond his prowess on the basketball court, Bryant was successful in the business world. In 2018, he earned an Academy Award for Best Animated Shot Film as the executive producer of the film “Dear Basketball”.
“He made an impact on so many people,” Houk said.