Monday was NHL Trade Deadline Day, the annual ritual where eleventy million-billion commentators put on a clean shirt and yammer on for 13 hours about a fourth line centre being swapped for a 5th round draft pick and two emergency back-up goalies.
In sharp contrast yesterday was the coverage of the celebration of life for Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Jan. 26.
Mourners packed the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Seated in the front rows were Bryant’s widow Vanessa Laine; Alex Rodriquez and Jennifer Lopez; NBA Hall of Famers Bill Russell, Shaq and Steve Nash and several other rich and famous friends in the world of sports and entertainment. Most seats in the arena were filled by dedicated Los Angeles Lakers fans who cheered Bryant to five championship titles.
Among those who spoke to the crowd from a podium was Jimmy Kimmel. (See video above.) The late night talk show host, very emotional on television two years ago during his young son Billy’s heart scare ordeal, started off by saying, “Well, you’ve picked the wrong person to guide you through I’m going to tell you right now.”
Which wasn’t true at all. Kimmel has become Hollywood’s priest. He’s gone from the Man Show to the Man Up show. He has the great gift of candor and sincerity, the ability to speak on important occasions from the top of his head and the bottom of his heart.
Kimmel managed to joke that even in Boston– Los Angeles’ traditional rivals — they mourn the loss of Bryant. He went on to say he struggled with trying to find something positive to say on this occasion, and that all he could come up with was “gratitude.” A strange conclusion, except Kimmel meant we should all be grateful for the time we have together; for the time we have now.
Then he did something extraordinary. Mentioning that the Bryant family were practicing Catholics, he invoked one of the more modern rituals of the Catholic church, the turning to one another and offering the “peace of Christ” to those around you in the pews. Kimmel observed that this kind of interpersonal sharing only occurs in churches or at sporting events, where people with similar cheering interests extend high-fives and even hugs with perfect strangers.
It was the ultimate ice breaker at centre ice, radiating throughout the arena. Even more impressive, it extended, via the Internet, world-wide in an instant.
All this occurred within a few days of the 40th anniversary of the “Miracle on Ice,” the moment Al Michaels’ asked viewers watching the USA’s upset Olympic hockey victory over the mighty Soviet Union, “Do you believe in miracles?”
Kimmel’s simple “sign of peace” gesture comes at a very divided time in North America and, really, around the world. Other arenas are often shown in television clips to be places where the seeds of division and hatred are planted during partisan election rallies. In a nervous society, the mere mention of any religion in open society is discouraged as an unwelcome taboo-breaker. And Catholic references? These days, they are generally linked to a newspaper headline citing the latest abuse allegations or now even Chapter 11 bankruptcy forecasts.
Kimmel’s simple gesture cut through a world of pain because he reached beyond the noise to a connecting core of hope, faith and belief. It was, at a moment when all the world needed it, the Miracle at Centre Ice.