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It’s okay to cry, Michael … I did too

Monday evening, on a replay, I watched the great basketball megastar Michael Jordan make the greatest assist of his career.

He held out his hand and helped Vanessa Bryant off the stage after her moving eulogy to her late husband, Kobe, and their daughter Gianna, or, Gigi.

By now you’re all familiar that Bryant and his daughter, along with seven other victims, were killed in that horrific Jan. 26 helicopter crash in California.

Jordan, who battled against Bryant in the NBA for many years, was openly weeping during his tribute. In his remarks he said he lost a ‘little brother’ and even poked fun at himself for creating a new ‘Crying Jordan’ meme that’ll last “another three or four years.”

In retrospect, Bryant’s memorial was as much for parents as for players, or coaches, or even us fans.

In life, Bryant was complex in many respects. He didn’t pursue popularity as much as possess pure determination to be the best in whatever he chose, basketball or otherwise.

As Jordan recounted, Bryant wasn’t a patient teenager; he turned professional right out of high school. Neither was he an easy teammate, as Shaquille O’Neal eulogized; nor was he an easy son, as a well-documented public split with his own parents revealed over the years. Yet, in death he has been held to the standard of superior family man.

In the end, Bryant became a role model through his excellence in basketball and through his exceptional work in philanthropy. One of his last known texts was seeking an internship for the daughter of one of the parents on that ill-fated copter flight.

Bryant coached his daughter’s team, and was en route to a game the day they died. He wanted to continue teaching Gigi and helping her develop a passion for basketball, no matter who was playing or at what age. So, it keeps coming back to the idea of being on a team, working together to build something bigger and better than before.

During his tribute, UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma issued a challenge. In recognizing the hundreds of women who split their time as parents and coaches, he asked them to give and receive the same coaching Bryant relished before he and Gigi’s time ended way too soon. He was asking for a legacy to continue.

Looking back on it, Michael wasn’t the only one who teared up. I did too.

Because if you watched the remarks of Jordan, and Shaq, Geno, comedian Jimmy Kimmel, and especially his wife, Vanessa, you got misty in a way that made no sense, but, strangely, it does.

Tragic, inexplicable loss doesn’t spare the rich and famous. It doesn’t spare any of us, really. If you watched that service then you related to Jordan and his emotions because after losing his father at the height of his success, he knows loss. And you know loss. Like we all know loss.

And not just any loss. Before the pain subsides, we know what it is like to go on living without the people we can’t live without.

But know that we have to.

Seeing those closest to Bryant at the beginning of their journey of loss and grief is a reminder that all of us, at one time or another, have to travel that road. The sorrow we feel, that irrational emotion that wells up in all of us during a service like that, isn’t projected because of celebrity. It’s shared.

We don’t feel for those closest to Bryant, we feel with them.

Looking around, we don’t have much in common with each other these days, economically, politically, or even socially.

But we all know human loss when we experience the ache and pain of it. And we know what it is like to go on living without the people we can’t live without.

So, it’s alright to cry.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.