On August 23, 1978, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a child was born to Joe and Pam Bryant. Little did they know that their newborn infant would grow up to have a remarkably profound impact on the world. I am far from an expert on Kobe Bryant and certainly don't know much about his life prior to entering the NBA, yet I can only imagine the influence he had on people from the time he was able to speak. Most people only viewed him through one lens: the lens of a competitive and slightly arrogant basketball player who rarely lost. Nothing is wrong with that view… he was one of the most diligent, relentless workers the game has ever seen. His willingness to show up to work time and time again and practice the same maneuvers thousands, perhaps even millions of times, drove him to develop moxie and swagger that oftentimes appeared rather arrogant and selfish. This self-instilled character, regardless of your outlook on it, is what guided him to a list of accolades that is longer than the average child's December list to Santa Claus. Amongst other things, Kobe acquired five NBA championships, seven total MVPs, fifteen all-NBA teams, eighteen all-star games, two Olympic gold medals, the name "Black Mamba," an Academy Award, and most importantly an uncanny ability to form strong relationships (Dorsey).
Perhaps your mind flashes to a lasting impression he made on you before it flashes to an accolade, though. He made such a wide variety of these lasting impressions that it's hard to focus only on one of them. Whether it be his eighty-one point performance, his going away party in which he dropped a subtle sixty points, his lengthy title run with Shaq, his remarkable poise on Matt Barnes's ball fake, his free throws on a torn Achilles, his left-handed three-pointer, or something else, it's hard not to recall at least one of these if you've paid any attention to sports over the last couple of decades. These moments are ones that would not have been forgotten for a long, long time, and now they are even as good as sketched in stone. It is only proper that one of the greatest competitors this world has ever seen leaves behind some of the greatest moments the sports world has ever seen. His on-the-court work alone puts him near the zenith of sports greats, but what if I told you that the legacy he planned to leave off the court was even more monumental?
I, along with much of the world, knew little of the life that Bryant had been living since his retirement a few years ago. Yet the stories that have floated their way to the surface of social media this past week changed my perspective on the man that Kobe was. To simply hear of these spectacular stories and see the emotions with which those who knew him to speak is something I'm thankful for. Living vicariously through these moments shows the side of Kobe that the media rarely represented. He would be the first to tell us that as much as he loved the role of a competitor, he loved the role of a father even more. It's not hard to notice how well he loved each of his four daughters upon hearing these stories of the sacrifices he made. His life had radically changed from spending hours-on-end in the gym to spending hours-on-end with his family. Much of that time was still in the gym as he mentored his daughter Gianna in her game. Though he probably wanted a son to continue his legacy, he noted that his role as a "girl dad" did anything other than disappoint him (Duncan). Elle Duncan of ESPN recalled her experience with Bryant in which he said that GiGi was a "monster… a beast" (Fernandez). There's no doubt in my mind that she would have carried the "Mamba mentality" with her throughout her career. This story is one of the hundreds of stories that have surfaced recently that depict the gentle, loving, and caring side of Kobe that he rarely displayed in the heat of competition. His love for his wife, Vanessa, was obvious as well and it was clear that they were committed to raising a family the right way. Prayers upon prayers go out to Vanessa and the other families who lost parts of their tribes as they battle to overcome these losses and love their families to the fullest of their capabilities.
So many questions raced through my mind as this news broke on Sunday, as I'm sure they did yours as well. I wondered how many of them would spend eternity in heaven. I wondered how these families would cope with the losses. I wondered how the pilot's family would deal with the grief. I wondered how much more intentionally people would start living their lives. I wondered how the world would respond to such a surprise.
The way that the world responded shocked me as much as the incident itself. The world responded with love, care, mourning, and prayer, all of which are things the world rarely produces. It was one of the few times I have ever seen such an outpouring of emotion from such a large people group. People of every country, every ethnicity, every race, every culture, every economic status, every faith group, and every walk of life were able to put aside their differences, their disagreement, and their hate toward each other and collectively responded appropriately FOR ONCE. Why don't we make that a habit? It was a form of artwork more beautiful than any pencil could ever draw or any hand could ever sculpt. It moved people to forgive; to move past the little things and to just begin loving. The Bible says that you are "a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes" (James 4:14, NIV). If only we could all grasp the fact that tomorrow is not promised. If only we could live more intentionally, squeezing every drop out of every day. If only we constantly remembered that God's plans are sovereign and that he could call any of his people home on any given day.
This past week has reminded me of why I love sports so much. Sports have a unique way of uniting people like nothing else can. Sports just demonstrated that people who have never met each other can form an inseparable bond simply because of what one athlete did for his or her game. Sports not only allow people to enjoy themselves, but they also teach invaluable life lessons time and time again. I hope that in the midst of this tragedy we can all see a beam of light shining through. I hope we can see God above telling us to love radically, to forgive wholeheartedly, and to invest in relationships with his people like never before. Today is important, so go and be the best version of yourself today. Go compete today; it's what Kobe would do. May the legacy of Kobe Bryant and the lessons he taught as a competitor and a family man live on generation after generation after generation. In fact, may they live on forever. Rest in peace, Mamba.