EVANSTON – The news he received at some point on Sunday was devastating, but there was a moment that seemed to really hit home for Northwestern’s basketball coach.
In essence, it was what Kobe Bryant really meant to Chris Collins. The achievements were outstanding, and the way in which he approached the game made him one of the greatest in the history of the sport. Yet it was the more personal moments that made Collins’ connection to Bryant so much more special, and a text message he received brought that fact to light following his death in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.
“My daughter sent me a picture of her and Kobe at the 2008 Olympics after she heard the news,” said Collins on Sunday while reflecting Bryant after Northwestern’s loss to Ohio State Sunday. “It’s really sad.”
Those moments were the ones that Collins remembered the most fondly in a tearful news conference at Welsh-Ryan Arena. He had a connection to Bryant right after his birth in 1978 since his father Doug was a teammate with Bryant's father Joe Bryant on the Sixers.
"I've known him since he was born. My sister and Kobe are about a month apart. So I was about four years old and I remember my mom and Kobe's mom being pregnant at the same time, and it was my sister and Kobe," said Collins. "So I've known him, I've known his family since then. Then obviously I had a chance to reconnect with him; I coached him on the national team on three different teams. In 2007 when we had to qualify for the Olympics, 2008 in Beijng, and then 2012 in London."
Those Olympic trips were top of mind for Collins when he remembered Bryant on Sunday. He spoke about a time in China when the guard made him rebound for him at 2 AM, comparing his competitiveness to that of Michael Jordan, whom Collins got to know when his father coached the Bulls in the late 1980s.
"When you travel overseas and a lot of times you go on those exhibition tours leading up to those games. For three of those summers, basically, that becomes your family for six weeks in the summer so forget about playing basketball and stuff, it's the times your at meals together and talking about kids and family," said Collins.
It's those moments that make the guard's loss so painful to take for the Northwestern coach, his players, the opponents on the other side at Welsh-Ryan Arena, and everyone else in the basketball world. Sunday's game went on as scheduled, as will others across the world on courts on Monday, but Bryant's death made the world stop for reflection on someone who meant so much to so many in a variety of ways.
"For all these kids on both teams, you're probably talking about a guy who was a hero to most all of them. So for those guys to get the news three hours before playing a game, it's tough for both teams, not just ours. Our guys were very emotional and obviously, I have a lot of history with Kobe going back to when he was a little kid, and I have a daughter who's 13," said Collins, referring to Bryant's daughter Gianna, who also perished in the crash. "So obviously everyone in our program, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family, and his wife and their children. Just really a hard day; it puts it all in perspective, about just playing a basketball game.
"Every minute's precious, man, every minute's precious, man, every minute's precious."
A fact brought to light by a piece of bad news, and a picture sent over a phone on Sunday.