Since I started the vittireport.com I have tried to produce one blog per week. I’ve been somewhat paralyzed on the blog front, first with the loss of my mother on New Year’s day followed by the horrific tragedy of losing Kobe, GiGi and seven other beautiful lives on January 26th, 2020. I’ve wanted to write but just couldn’t come up with a topic or the mental energy to find something meaningful to share. I woke up this morning with thoughts of Kobe saying come on GV, I know you’re not 100% but give me what you can. Tell them how I handled the Achilles. So here it goes.
It occurred to me that the one thing many of us are sharing as I write this is grief. After I retired I was asked by sports psychologist Dr. Bill Parham to speak to his class at Loyola Marymount University about the psychological aspects of athletic injury. I remember telling the class that athletes go through many of the same stages of grief as if they lost a loved one. Their sport is so meaningful to the inner core of who they are that losing that ability to participate is the same as losing someone they love.
Many athletes experience the loss of identity, a vulnerability of needing to ask for help and the fear of not being able to return to play.
The reactions to time loss injuries lead an athlete to the five phases of grief and the greatest example of this is when Kobe ruptured his Achilles tendon and here’s how he handled it.
DENIAL is the first phase:
When I got to him, he was writhing in pain and told me it felt like someone kicked him in the back of the leg. That is the telltale sign of an Achilles rupture. When I told him that’s what I thought it could be he told me he was trying to pull it back down. I told him it doesn’t work that way so he said: “let’s go in the back and you can tape it so I can play.” I told him that was not going to work either. At that moment he could not accept that he could not play. He was in denial trying to figure out how he/we could keep him in the game.
When I first heard the news of the helicopter crash my initial reaction was that is was a hoax. Even as credible sources confirmed the story I still didn’t want to believe it. I was in denial.
ANGER is the second phase:
At the moment Kobe ruptured his Achilles, he was fouled. We were in the bonus so there was an opportunity to shoot two free throws. I told Kobe he could shoot the free throws and make or miss we were going to foul to create a dead ball and then pull him out of the game. He heroically shot and made both free throws and then stoically shuffled off the floor and made his way to the training room never showing the emotions that were brewing within him. When we got to the training room he let loose. Throwing bottles of Gatorade, ranting why me, why now. He was in a fit of anger.
When I realized that the helicopter crash story was real, I became angry and I still am. Why Kobe, why Gigi, why these innocent young children and parents of children. These wonderful people, why take them? They have so much to offer the world.
NEGOTIATION is the third phase:
The negotiation or bargaining for Kobe was, if I didn’t make that move or if I didn’t play so many minutes maybe this wouldn’t have happened. It was his way of trying to explain how things could have been done differently or better. A way to explain what and why trying to regain control.
As the investigation goes on about the helicopter crash I find myself asking the same questions of how and why. Trying to negotiate a way that could have changed the outcome. If he never used the helicopter and drove, if it wasn’t so foggy if they had the right equipment. I have learned there is no solution to the negotiation phase it’s only a step to get to the next phase.
DEPRESSION is the fourth phase:
Vanessa, Natalia, and Gigi were at the game the night Kobe ruptured his Achilles. It took some time for security to usher them to the training room to see him. As emotional as Kobe was when we entered the training he turned it off as soon as he saw his family. He did not want them to see him that way. By the time we left the arena, he bypassed the depression phase and was off to the final phase.
I am still stuck in depression but I’m trying to work myself out of it. I went back to read text messages and voice mails he left for me. One message was a video of Gigi making a patented Black Mamba turn around fall away jump shot that was all net. In the text, he asked me if I recognized the move. I also retrieved a voice mail he left after my dad passed away. He asked about my daughters and the rest of my family. He sent condolences and love.
ACCEPTANCE is the fifth and final phase:
Before we left the arena the night Kobe ruptured his Achilles he had already accepted the injury and had a plan to return to play. It began with surgery that he wanted scheduled the very next day. His ability to move through the stages to acceptance was in typical Kobe fashion.
I am trying to get out of depression and into acceptance. I am too emotional to keep doing interviews and talking about this tragedy. I don’t like seeing myself that way or having other people see me that way. I also stopped watching the tragedy played over and over again on TV. I am still not good but I’m getting better. I don’t believe time heals all wounds. I think you can get better at handling it but the wound never heals and it will never be the same. I’m working on it. I’m not there yet but I’ll get there because Kobe would want me to.
This will be the last I speak of the tragedy for a while. It was therapeutic for me to write this blog and I hope it may help some of you.