I knew it was a joke when I got the text that Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash in my basketball group chat. It had to be. An immature, insensitive joke...but a joke nonetheless. Right?
The more I stared at the text, the more the weight of the text sank, right along with my heart. My whole mood changed. I called my little brother, and he was audibly shaken as he tried to find words to describe how he felt. I called my mom and she had just finished crying, I listened as she made sense of the vapor that is life.
I got online to find out, that not only did Kobe pass in the crash, but so did his 13 year old daughter Gianna. My heart sunk even deeper. I spent 15 minutes talking to my family about it but then went back to the meeting I was in, but for the rest of the meeting I felt emotionally crippled. Multiple people took note of my mood change. In my head, I attributed it to some other difficult conversations I had earlier that day...but the feeling followed long after those conversations were resolved. It wasn’t until I talked to my wife that night that I realized I was legitimately grieving Kobe and Gianna.
I tried to understand why I would be grieving for a man that I had never met, and rooted AGAINST nearly his whole career. I was not a Lakers fan or even a Kobe fan during his playing days. I was always #TeamLebron, which in my mind meant I had to be #TeamAntiKobe. Yet when I found out the news, it felt like I was grieving my favorite player or a friend.
I grew up with Kobe and despite my rooting against him, the one thing I always had for him was respect for what he brought to the game. Any serious basketball fan had to respect Kobe. He absolutely commanded it. He forced it out of you. It was one thing to watch him play...but to understand his greatness, you had to understand his approach.
The intensity, the intelligence, the intentionality was all in your face EVERY game!
A defender’s worst nightmare.
His dunks were hard, his touch was soft. He played with rage, but didn’t let it control him. He thought three steps ahead of everyone on the court. I remember thinking “how can someone so calculated, be so vicious?” It was frustrating when it was against the team I wanted to win, but beautiful to watch nonetheless.
I found myself smiling throughout his final game, when he dropped 60 points against the Utah Jazz to end his career with a bang. He didn’t have the same explosiveness he once had, but he had the same commitment to excellence. There was no way he was going out like any other player has. He was going to make his mark...and he did.
The more I watched interviews with him and documentaries on his life over the years, the more I grew to respect Kobe Bryant. And although, my allegiance was never to him or his team. He subtly wrestled his way into my heart the same way he had done with the hearts of millions of people around the world.
Kobe was special.
Universally, Kobe was and will be grieved. As it should be. The reason why so many felt the weight of Kobe’s death was his impact beyond basketball! And if I were to narrow this impact down to one thing...it was his insane, steadfast, painstaking commitment to excellence.
His commitment to detail and excellence inspired the athletic and non-athletic , the creative and uncreative, the religious and non-religious, the educated and uneducated. It inspired whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. It inspired the poor, the rich, and the middle class. It inspired men, women, and children. The Kobe fan, the Lebron fan, and the Jordan fan. It went far beyond basketball.
No wonder why he won an Oscar award for his animated short, “Dear Basketball”, less than 2 years after his retirement from 20 years of professional basketball. His commitment to excellence translated across fields! His legacy was one of excellence and it reminds all to reflect on what excellence looks for each of us.
Kobe’s passing has reminded me of a few things:
1. Life is short. I’ve got to keep my perspective eternal and live life to the fullest. I want to love Jesus and love people with all I’ve got.
2. None of the stuff in this world will follow me into life after this world.
3. It’s ok to grieve even when I don’t fully understand it. I don’t need to deny it because it doesn’t make sense in the moment. I can let the process happen and trust their will be good fruit on the other side of it.
4. And lastly, when God puts something in my hand...I’m called to be excellent in stewarding it. I’m recommitting to excellence this year...Colossians 3:23
What about you? What lessons are you taking from the legacy that Kobe (and Gianna) left behind?
To the 9 who passed away in the tragic helicopter crash that took place on January 26th, 2020:
John Altobelli, 56
Keri Altobelli, 46
Christina Mauser, 38
Ara Zobayan, 50
Sarah Chester, 45,
Payton Chester, 13
Kobe Bryant, 41
Gianna Bryant, 13
We remember you all. God bless your families and Rest In Peace.