I have a confession: When I was a kid, I started out as a Lakers fan. My parents aren’t exactly sports fans so I was left to forge my own path. And while I eventually let geography dictate my fandom, the Lakers provided the foundation for a love of a sport that would only intensify over time.
Everyone has a favorite Kobe memory. Mine? The second game I ever saw in-person was Kobe and Shaq at the Garden.1 The one memory I’ve retained from that game, other than the 104-83 drubbing, is Kobe hitting a mid-range jumper and jogging up the court. It was so easy and… effortless. And sure, many other more iconic memories come to mind, but that memory was iconic to me.
Much like you may have felt, I was sick to my stomach when I learned of Bryant’s passing. That feeling only intensified when I learned his daughter, Gigi, passed, as well as the other seven victims involved. While their deaths may be tied to Bryant’s, their existences shouldn’t be. We grieve for their loves ones too. And while we keep that in mind, I must highlight Bryant, as they simply didn’t have as profound of an impact on the world as the Black Mamba did.
There are three phases of how I look at players. First, there are the superstars whose careers and rise to fame last between your birth and your teenage years. Next, you have the elite players who start their careers around the time you start yours. Finally, you reach an age where you’re officially older than everyone in the league.
Kobe and Derek Jeter embodied my Phase 1. I didn’t measure the passage of time in my birthdays or my milestones but in the careers of my sports idols. It hit me that I was no longer a wide-eyed child when Jeter retired. I felt a genuine sense of sadness when the shortstop called it quits.
When Kobe retired? That was different. I was on vacation, nine time zones away from Bryant’s final game. I woke up, went to the gym, and proceeded to watch the highlights of number 24 drop 60 points in a win. Jeter’s exit was bittersweet but Kobe’s finale had me grinning from ear to ear.
When someone noteworthy dies, we tend to make their time on Earth about us. How do we remember them? How did they impact us? How were we affected personally? We reminisce about stories where we’re merely audience members to another person’s 11 o’clock number. We save up and spend our hard-earned money on replica apparel. We collect their name, authentically written in their own handwriting, to represent some form of contact that we have with them. We use cameras to forever capture moments with them that we deem exciting, and then we share those images for positive reinforcement and superficial praise. The idolization is so unnecessarily self-absorbed.
But you know what? It’s perfectly okay to be self-absorbed sometimes. I once chased Sting down the street to get a selfie. I waited three hours just to shake LeBron’s hand and have him walk away from me when I asked for a picture. I sprinted backstage at a show to meet Paul McCartney, where I got an autograph, took multiple photos, told him my three favorite Beatles songs, and received a warm smile, a thank you, and a pat on the cheek. Those people are just as human as I am. They almost assuredly forgot about me as soon as I left their side, and yet, I’d do it all over again if I could. They’ve each had such a profound effect on my life; it doesn’t have to be mutual.
Perhaps you’re like me and you believe that each one of us has one life to live. We should live it to the fullest and get as much out of it as we can. Nine people who perished in a helicopter crash woke up yesterday with the intention of seeing today. They made plans with their families and shared dreams with them too. At least two children will miss out on a lifetime of moments we assume will transpire. At least one spouse has lost a partner, at least one mother has lost a child, and even more kids have lost at least one parent. There are the boys and girls, some of whom aren’t even born yet, who will miss out on idolizing and hoping to one day become a possible future WNBA player. We have lost an ambassador to the game and to life, as well as additional individuals who may never even touch our lives.
The catalyst for change tends to most exist when tragedy occurs. My suggestion? Use this tragedy as a way to impact positive change, be it on yourself, on your loved ones, and/or on your community. And if that’s too much, reflect on the positives you’ve experienced. I’m privileged to lead a happy life. I’ve been blessed with good health and a loving, supportive inner circle, all of which could be gone in a moment’s notice. I sometimes find myself taking life for granted. Maybe you do too.
Within the same week, Jeter was enshrined into Cooperstown and Bryant’s helicopter crashed in Calabasas. Phase 1 of my life may have had a fairytale ending but it now features a horrific footnote. I can only count my blessings and hope to make it through Phase 2 and into Phase 3.
Kobe didn’t know me, and I didn’t really know Kobe, publicly or privately. I can’t speak on his character, his morality, or his decision making. He was a magnificent entertainer and the work that he did provided a necessary constant in my life. I mentioned that I was a Lakers fan when I was younger. The reason for that was because of Kobe Bean Bryant. To me, Kobe was the Lakers, but the truth is, he’ll always be so much more than that.