Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
At first, Cal McCarthy thought his friends were messing with him when they told him Kobe Bryant died.
He was doing homework when they said it. But after a search on his laptop, the news was confirmed: his basketball idol was killed in a helicopter crash. Soon after, McCarthy saw the tributes that NBA teams and people all over the world were doing, and that sparked an idea he would bring to the VCU student section.
“The influence he had on the game of basketball, the influence he had on the world, we had to do something for him,” McCarthy said. “The NBA is honoring him with the 24-second shot clock violations, so I thought ‘let’s hold up some 24s for Kobe.’”
McCarthy, the social media director for the Rowdy Rams, planned for the student section to make signs with the number 24 and hold them up 24 seconds into Tuesday’s game against Richmond. He ran his idea past the VCU Athletics marketing department, and they were onboard.
The signs were the easiest thing to do McCarthy said, as the Stuart C. Siegel Center was having a ‘Stripe the Stu’ game with free T-shirts on each seat. That eliminated another idea he had: to try to get everyone to wear purple and gold for the Los Angeles Lakers, the team Bryant played for his entire career.
As students streamed into the Siegel Center for the rivalry matchup, McCarthy and other members of the Rowdy Rams board passed out the signs.
After handing the signs out to the entire student section, members of the Gold Rush dance team and the Peppas, they had to make sure everyone knew when to hold them up. McCarthy said there was some confusion at first, but the students figured it out by tipoff.
“I thought it was executed perfectly,” McCarthy said. “I think everyone liked the idea and thought it was a cool gesture to get by.”
Once the game began, anticipation built in section 34 next to the Spiders’ bench, as the students gripped their paper tributes. After 24 seconds, the students raised the signs, Bryant jerseys and even an oversized headshot of Bryant for the duration of the Rams’ possession in front of them.
Jishnu Purihella, a VCU senior, held the large photo of Bryant during the tribute and throughout the game.
“It was great to honor him because of what he did to the game,” Purihella said. “His death was still fresh, and it felt surreal to honor him with my friends as well.”
The pieces of paper were simple with a bold No. 24 and Bryant’s name, but the message was heard.
Coach Mike Rhoades tweeted a photo of the tribute after the game and was appreciative of the gesture, writing, “Our students are class, proud & awesome! #appreciation.”
— Mike Rhoades (@CoachRhoades) January 29, 2020
Bryant inspired people all over the world, including McCarthy, who said Bryant was an influential player.
“Kobe just had that cut throat mentality … the Mamba Mentality,” McCarthy said. “Just as an athlete growing up I played sports, and Kobe Bryant is just someone you know, look up to and respect.”
Purihella said Bryant was bigger than basketball, from his work ethic to his legacy.
“He made an entire generation of people yell his name when they shoot a trash can bucket,” Purihella said. “He was our [Michael] Jordan, and he’s the closest that we’ve had since MJ with his demeanor, mannerisms and drive.”