‘Like losing Steve Irwin’: Kobe’s death sends shockwaves
THE impact of the tragic death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter accident had to be seen in the context of the sport's importance to the United States' culture.
Sean Page, who left the Sunshine Coast to coach in the United States 19 years ago, has described the news as having similar impact to that in Australia when Steve Irwin died.
Kobe Bryant, the face of the NBA in the early 2000s was killed in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna as they headed to the Mamba Sports Academy for a coaching session.
On board and also killed in the crash near Calabasas in California were Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli and two of his relatives Alyssa and Keri Altobelli.
Mr Page, who is the 5000-student Auburn University of Montgomery women's basketball head coach after a decade as head coach at Newberry College South Carolina, said Kobe had become a worldwide icon, known by the first name.
He said the 20-year Lakers guard had been the face of the NBA's global push in the early 2000s, a huge influence on its success and a big part of the culture.
"Steve Irwin's death had a similar impact in Australia," Mr Page said.
"People will remember where they were when they heard the news. I'm just feeling really sand for the families involved.
"With Kobe the first thing that comes to mind is his work ethic. He was famous for his drive. Still playing into his late 30s and scored 60 in his last game."
Mr Page said when the superstar had played what he considered as bad game the stories were legendary of how he would go straight to the gym and take shot after shot until he was satisfied.
Mr Page said the 41-year-old played his last game in 2016 but has been active since, winning the 2018 Academy Award for his animated short film Dear Basketball based on a poem he wrote on his retirement.
"He was the kind of guy who was always going to make an impact on the world, he wasn't someone who was going to go away when he retired," he said.
"Kobe was heavily involved in women's sport and an advocate for women in sport."
Mr Page, the son of Maroochydore Clippers legends Beryl and Sid Page, said there was an enormous amount of money involved.
He was given 10, $30,000-a-year scholarships to pick a team that would win. Auburn University had a 3000-seat stadium, weight rooms, swimming pools, trainers and strength coaches.
"Basketball is important to the culture here," Mr Page said.
"I walk down the street here and people call me Coach."