Minges Maniacs pay tribute to Kobe. 

The sports community, and the world, suffered a great loss on Sunday. The National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar Kobe Bryant, along with eight other victims, were tragically killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

While Bryant never attended East Carolina University, he wore his own purple and gold playing for the Los Angeles Lakers for his entire 20 season NBA career. His work ethic, competitive nature and sportsmanship inspired and set an example for an entire generation of basketball players, including several Pirates.

“I was distraught (upon hearing of Bryant’s death),” sophomore forward Jayden Gardner said. “Kobe Bryant was my favorite player, the reason I started playing basketball. Being able to wear the purple also factored in to me choosing ECU. It was tough, I cried a lot. It was just heartbreaking.”

In the wake of his death, many teams, both collegiate and professional have been finding ways to pay tribute to Bryant. During Sunday night’s games the teams playing allowed for the 24-second shot clock to run down and committed 8-second violations in honor of Bryant’s jersey numbers while playing for the Lakers. The Dallas Mavericks also announced Monday that they would retire theNo. 24 jersey in honor of Bryant as well.

Wednesday night, during East Carolina University men’s basketball team’s matchup with the University of Houston, the Minges Maniacs set up a sign for fans to write messages. After signed, it will be sent to the Staples Center, the home of the Lakers, to show ECU’s tribute to Bryant.

According to junior marketing major and Minges Maniacs president, C.J. Shaeffer, the idea stemmed from Shaeffer’s love of basketball and what Bryant has done for the sport. With the Minges Maniacs large student body reach, Shaeffer wanted to find a way to honor Bryant.

“We got the idea of a sign because we usually make a bunch of signs anyway and figured we could include this one, which is gonna say, ‘Thank You Kobe,’” Shaeffer said before the game. “We’re gonna get anyone in attendance who wants to to sign it and try to mail it off to the Staples Center as a sign of appreciation for what he did for basketball.”

Shaeffer’s thought behind the gesture is that a majority of the current generation of basketball players and fans have seen Bryant play, and that everyone who attends Wednesday nights game at Minges Coliseum have mourned him in some way.

During his career as a shooting guard, Bryant only played for the Lakers, joining the NBA directly after high school at only 17 years old. He was originally drafted 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets in 1996 before being traded to the Lakers soon after. It soon became clear that he was not an average athlete and would take professional basketball to the next level and he didn’t disappoint.

While in the NBA, Bryant accumulated many accolades. By his retirement in 2016 he scored 33,643 points (25.0 ppg), made 7,047 rebounds (5.2 rpg) and 6,306 assists (4.7 apg). He won gold medals with both the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London Olympic USA men’s basketball teams.

“It’s obviously tragic for all nine people involved in the situation. He’s (Bryant) obviously been an ambassador for the game and a lot of the young guys have always looked up to him,” men’s basketball head coach Joe Dooley said. “I think there is a few iconic figures in the game and he’s one of them.”

Bryant’s career as a professional basketball player was only part of his image. He was also a husband to his wife Vanessa Bryant and a wonderful father to their four daughters. Tragically, however, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant was one of the victims of the accident that claimed Bryant’s life.

After retirement, Bryant continued to share his love for the game. Not only did he become a mentor for many young players, but he also opened the Mamba Academy in 2018. He also coached his daughter Gianna’s travel basketball team.

“I know it shocked me, I know it shocked the world a little bit. It’s a sad moment,” junior guard J.J. Miles said. “I watched him when I was a kid, still watching highlights now. He was a big part of basketball.”

Kobe Bryant (41), Gianna Bryant (13), John (56), Kerri (46) and Alyssa Altobelli (13), Sarah (45) and Payton Chester (13), Christina Mauser (38) and Ara Zobayan (50) were all on board Bryant’s helicopter Sunday flying to the Mamba Academy for a basketball tournament, that the girls were scheduled to play in, when it crashed during the flight. The reasons behind the crash are still being investigated, but there were no survivors.

Kobe Bryant was not a perfect man, but his legacy transcends the basketball community. He pushed basketball to the next level and inspired many to follow their dreams and do the same and although he is gone, his legacy will live on for many years to come.

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