Some of those in attendance at the public memorial service to Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday have put items on eBay – including ticket stubs, program booklets and T-shirts – for thousands of dollars.
“One seller listed an official Kobe shirt from the memorial – and after receiving 76 bids, it sold for $2,025!” screamed one US media outlet the day after the event.
Attempting to cash in on grief while making out you are a genuine mourner – who would have thought it?
Well, this writer for one.
Since the tragic deaths of Bryant and his daughter alongside seven others in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, there has been the outpouring of grief you would expect for such an iconic sporting figure.
Bryant was one of those rare athletes who transcended their own sport to become a major name way beyond its boundaries. Few can lay claim to such status; it’s a rarified group including the likes of fellow basketball icons Michael Jordan and LeBron James, or footballers Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
That star power was again in evidence in the mountain of genuine mourning on display at Bryant’s memorial on Monday, at which Michael Jordan broke down in tears and Bryant’s widow Vanessa gave a moving eulogy.
But amid all of the sincere sorrow we have seen a fair amount of phoney grief and shameless opportunism since that fateful day at the end of January – most of which has, perhaps unsurprisingly, extended to the digital domain.
As the biggest sporting death in the age of social media, Bryant’s passing has brought out the best of the medium but also much of the worst.
After the news of his death broke, suddenly everyone was a Kobe Bryant fan; suddenly every other tweeter became a mourner; suddenly every visit Bryant ever made to a football club, every word he uttered in an interview, became imbued with some deeper meaning and significance – far outweighing those who were genuinely saddened by his passing.
Everyone was consumed by a collective grief for a man who, in reality, just five minutes ago they likely had little if any real affinity with.
True, at a human level, any death of a 41-year-old father alongside his young daughter in a tragic accident would touch anyone with a heart. Many will also have manufactured an imagined personal connection with Bryant, as people often do with celebrities.
But so many have been willing to jump on the bandwagon – or in this case a grim funeral cortege – as they sought to capitalize on showing how much they mourned.
That scramble to show you care turns out to be a fraught business, as seen when Cristiano Ronaldo and fellow Portuguese icon Luis Figo shared the exact same tribute message to Bryant on the social media accounts. No doubt an awkward conversation for that PR team.
We have also seen the far more tangible attempts to cash in, such as the tasteless hawking of Bryant memorial souvenirs on eBay mentioned above or the garish Lamborghini embellished with his image as a ‘tribute’, only to be put up for sale for $170,000.
And then there have been the vicious takedowns of anyone who dared offer a more rounded view of a man who clearly had flaws. Broadcaster Gayle King was branded a “dog-faced b*tch” by rapper Snoop Dogg for daring to pose the question about what the sexual allegations against Bryant meant for his legacy. King also received death threats.
Washington Post journalist Felicia Sonmez was fired for tweeting a link to an article about the Bryant sexual assault case in the wake of his death. Justice was eventually done when she was later reinstated after protests from hundreds of colleagues.
The deluge of grief has threatened to drown anyone who dared step back and offer any different narrative to that of Bryant the basketball saint.
None of what’s written here is an attempt to disparage Bryant or his legacy. No disrespect is meant towards his family. He was a man who genuinely touched millions of lives through his basketball career, spreading joy for the brilliance he brought to the court. It is not a slight on those who genuinely mourned his passing and continue to do so.
But now that the memorial to Bryant and his daughter has been held, let’s hope that any fake grief and shameless profiteering in his name will come to an end.
By Liam Tyler