Barber: 49ers, Chiefs reflect on Kobe Bryant
MIAMI - They received the news at 30,000 feet. The Chiefs and 49ers both were en route to Miami for Super Bowl LIV when word began to circulate that Kobe Bryant (and eight other people, we’d come to learn) had died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.
I, too, was in the air when I found out. It was, in a word, unbelievable. I stood up and tried to find the eyes of another Bay Area sportswriter — several were on my flight — but couldn’t find them.
As shocking as Bryant’s death was, though, it did not hit me on a personal level. I didn’t know the man. He wasn’t a big deal for me, culturally. I respected Bryant and admired his talent and passion, but I never idolized him.
It was different for so many athletes. I’ve spent a lot of time in locker rooms and clubhouses over the past 16 years, and I’d say the only person who might have rivaled Kobe as an object of fellow-athlete adoration is Tiger Woods. Bryant captivated his peers with his intensity, his drive and his ice-cold unflappability in big moments.
At Super Bowl Opening Night, the Big Game’s first real media event on Monday, excitement for the coming contest was tempered by remembrances of Bryant. Many members of the 49ers and Chiefs talked about hearing the tragic news, about what Bryant meant to them personally (especially in Richard Sherman’s case) and professionally, about what they absorbed from his example, about how to move on.
Here are the recollections of some of the men I listened to Monday night.
49ers cornerback Richard Sherman: “John (Lynch, San Francisco’s general manager) came up and told me on the plane. I was sleeping and he tapped me and said, ‘I’m sorry. It’s unconfirmed right now, but there’s rumors that Kobe has passed.’ I want to say probably an hour into the flight.”
49ers wide receiver Dante Pettis: “I was sleeping and heard Deebo (Samuel) was like, ‘Hey, Dante, Kobe died.’ I was asleep and heard that and immediately woke up and was like, ‘What did you say?’ He said it again, and I said ‘no way.’ I went on Twitter. I had like 30 texts from people, because they knew how important he was in my life.”
Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark: “I heard something from one of my close friends, he was in LA, actually. And he had tweeted ‘Rest in peace, Kobe.’ I seen the tweet, and I got off of Twitter. ... And my boy (defensive tackle) Chris Jones, he came up to me and said, ‘You know, Kobe Bryant just died in a helicopter crash.’ That’s when I knew the news. And it was some of the worst news you could hear. Some of the worst news I’ve ever heard.”
Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu: “It was shocking, really, to say the least. Really so sad for his family, and his wife and their daughters. I never thought in my lifetime that Kobe Bryant — I thought guys like him would last forever.”
Sherman: “I’m sure this kind of shock takes a few days to process it. This man was gone way before he was supposed to. And you never pick your time, you never know when you’re supposed to go. But I can’t remember any generational talent like this being gone before his time.”