This week brought the first anniversary of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and others. The media was full of tributes to his spectacular career and the tragedy of lives lost too soon. Kobe had retired from the Lakers but his business career was blossoming, he seemed to love being an active Dad to his four daughters, and he was winning major awards for his work in other fields (including an Academy Award for a short film). He was only 41 when he died.
His sudden death stands as a reminder that no amount of fame or fortune can protect us when the Reaper comes to collect us. Unfortunately, the sudden death of Kobe was not the first involving a major American sports star. Quite a few come to mind, but I thought this was a good time to review two pro athletes that mostly seem to have been forgotten, Pete Maravich and Lyman Bostock.
Pete Maravich was raised to be a basketball star by his father, who coached him at LSU. He averaged more than 44 points per game over three seasons in the 1970s, before the 3-point shot, and when freshmen were not allowed to play varsity sports. Almost as remarkable were his dribbling and passing skills, which became the precursor to players like Magic Johnson.
Drafted by the Atlanta Hawks but without much of a team to support him, he still became a star before being traded to the New Orleans Jazz, an expansion team. In his best single game, he scored 68 points against the NY Knicks without the 3-point shot. In his final season in 1979, he played as a reserve with the Boston Celtics with rookie Larry Bird in the first season the NBA allowed the 3-pointer. He only attempted 15 3-point shots that season as a reserve, but he made 10 of them! Sadly, he died just a few years later of an undetected heart defect at age 40. He’d been out playing a pickup game in Pasadena when he collapsed.
The death of Lyman Bostock was possibly even more shocking as he was in the prime of his career when he was suddenly killed. Bostock was a baseball player who became a star outfielder playing for the Minnesota Twins. In his third season (1977), he hit .336 for the Twins and finished second for the batting title. After that season, he signed with the California Angels as a free agent for one of the largest contracts in sports at that time.
Possibly feeling the pressure of his new contract, he started the season with a 2 for 39 slump. Feeling guilty, he offered to give back his first month’s salary to the owner, who refused it. He vowed that if he wasn’t hitting at least his weight by the end of the first month, he would donate his salary to charity! He finished that first month hitting just .150 and did later donate that salary to charity. But his hitting recovered and he was batting .296 when the Angels visited Chicago late in the season.
After a game at Comiskey Park, he went to visit his uncle in Gary, Indiana. He was driven to visit a couple of other old friends when he was shot while sitting in the backseat with a woman he’d just met. The woman’s crazy husband had seen her there and assumed she was having an affair with the guy next to her and tried to shoot her from another car with a shotgun! Bostock was hit in the right temple and died two hours after arriving at the hospital. How senselessly tragic!
Lyman Bostock hit .311 over his four seasons in the majors and seemed destined for the Hall of Fame. He was just 27 years old when he died! But, as I wrote above, his sudden death stands as a reminder that no amount of fame or fortune can protect us when the Reaper comes to collect us.