Celtics' Jayson Tatum mourns Kobe Bryant, and embodies the public nature of an unprecedented sports tragedy

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The death of Kobe Bryant is a kind never seen before in American sports.

Other pro athletes have died in horribly tragic, sudden fashion. Plenty of greats have left us too soon. But the loss of one of a sport's most revered players at such an untimely age, along with his teenage daughter and seven other victims, in the age of social media, where young players across the league shared in mourning the death of their idol with the world, is a confluence of communal sadness never experienced before in the industry.

You'll remember where you were when you heard we lost Kobe. And you were probably scrolling through the tweets.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum grew up idolizing Bryant, as did an entire generation of young players emerging in the NBA. And like most of the league, Tatum shares much of his life on and off the court on social media. So for such a sudden tragedy to hit Tatum and many others, in an era where you wear your heart on your Instagram stories, is to reveal a very publicly devastated population of athletes who just lost a living legend.

"Heart broken. My Hero. My Idol," read Tatum's Instagram post from Sunday, which featured an image of him with Bryant as a young boy in a Lakers jersey. "The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love with this game. Growing up wanting to be just like you, to you becoming a mentor, beyond thankful for everything you’ve done for me."

Heart broken. My Hero. My Idol. The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love with this game. Growing up wanting to be just like you, to you becoming a mentor, beyond thankful for everything you've done for me. "I didn't have a plan B I put all my eggs in one basket and I knew I was going to make it happen" hearing you say that stuck with me everyday of my life. You inspired me and I am forever grateful more than you know! Love you Bean ????????❤️! Sad, sad, sad day RIP Kobe and Gianna! Praying for the family!

257.9k Likes, 1,923 Comments - Jayson Tatum???????? (@jaytatum0) on Instagram: "Heart broken. My Hero. My Idol. The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love..."

Tatum later posted again on Sunday in his Instagram story, illustrating with a pair of photos just how closely he modeled himself as a player after Bryant.

Jayson Tatum honors Kobe Bryant in his Instagram story. (@jaytatum0 on Instagram)
(@jaytatum0 on Instagram)

Tatum notably worked out with Bryant in the 2018 offseason. Bryant's mentorship became a source of controversy after Tatum took a curious step back from his exciting rookie season. But it's important to look at the big picture with the development of a young, promising talent. Quibble all you want about whatever Bryant taught Tatum on the court, but the most important quality that Celtics fans have to hope Bryant passed on to him was a relentless will to win and unstoppable desire to get better.

Players across the NBA learned a lot about winning from just watching Bryant growing up. It's part of why losing Bryant has rocked them so severely. And we're in a period of sports history where a league's feelings toward a fallen hero are more willfully publicized than ever before.

Tatum is the embodiment of a global community coping with a massive loss in an age where grief is unavoidably visible.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].