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J-TOWN BEAT: Marking Life and Death in Kobe Time

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Fans and admirers stand before one of the growing memorials to Kobe Bryant at L.A. Live in Downtown on Monday. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA

Surreal. Shocking. It can’t be true.

It was a ripple of shock, a quick glance at a cellphone that told the horrific news that Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were dead in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

That shock is no different in the Japanese and Japanese American communities than any other segment of L.A. I was attending the Wakayama Kenjinkai New Year’s Party, an occasion for joyous celebration, when Walter Nishinaka offered me a quick glance at the terrible news on his phone. Earlier, sports editor Michael Culross had called but I didn’t pick up. Surely, it wasn’t anything important.

Unbelievable. Shinjirarenai.

At our table, the news eventually spread and even 100-year-old Kisae Sato, seated next to me, said with disbelief … “Kobe?”

More horrifying is the further loss of life, nine souls, including three members of a girls’ basketball team. Thirteen-year-old Gianna following in dad’s footsteps, could have been a kid playing JAO, SEYO or any other youth league on a Sunday. It’s a scenario every JA basketball parent can relate to, even if Kobe and Gianna were riding in a helicopter, rather than a car, to get to their game.

For Laker fans, we marked our lives in Kobe time during the decades he spent here in Los Angeles.

We lived our lives by his numerology: 81 for the points he scored against Toronto in 2006; 5, the championships he won; 24 and 8, the numbers of his jerseys hanging at Staples Center; 60, the improbable number of points he scored in his final game on April 13, 2016.

Now the dreadful finality of 41 and 13. The too-short number of years that Kobe and Gianna had on this Earth.

Hundreds of messages of grief and gratitude have been left by fans. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

It takes me back to the comments made by the late Dean Matsubayashi back in 2017. He mentioned Kobe in context of the groundbreaking for the Terasaki Budokan Gymnasium.

Dean said, “Kobe played for the L.A. Lakers for 20 years and here we are, still pushing ahead on this project.”

I kinda doubt that the Mamba would have been on the guest list for the grand opening of Budokan in the spring, but somehow, like Dean’s untimely passing, L.A. feels emptier knowing that Kobe is no longer.

By chance, I also interviewed Dr. Glen Komatsu this weekend. Glen, who has been working with Keiro on the Iyashi Care program, works in palliative care as medical director of TrinityKids Care. His mission is to bring compassionate care to patients and their families at the most difficult moments in their lives.

He spoke with quiet passion of mindfulness and accepting and embracing death. In a corner of the spacious Torrance office space was the desk and books once owned by

Kübler-Ross once said: “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth — and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up — that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”

That is what I take from the news of Kobe’s passing. The simple truth that we all must live our lives to the fullest — for as long as we can — and cherish the loved ones who bring meaning to our lives.

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Gwen Muranaka, senior editor of The Rafu Shimpo, can be contacted at [email protected] Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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