Imperfect people can still have big impact
I dropped heavily on the hotel couch, my legs sort of giving out on the way down. Reading the words on the news alert over and over again didn’t make them feel any more real.
“TMZ reports Kobe Bryant dies in crash.”
Surely it was fake, I thought as my heart started racing. It had to be one of the ever-more-common internet hoaxes that spread like wildfire on social media.
With every piercing ding signaling a new notification, the report became all too real. The Los Angeles Lakers legend had died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning, alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
You haven’t wandered into the sports section and it isn’t a mistake this is on the Opinion page. Bryant’s impact on me and millions of others transcends sports. Yes, he was a basketball player but his larger-than-life personality and approach to the game goes well beyond it.
I shed tears for a man I’d never met and a family I do not know. Then I pulled it together, determined not to let it ruin my daughter’s birthday and our visit to the indoor water park. Why? Because that’s what I believe Kobe Bryant would have done.
Let me start at the beginning.
Growing up in eastern Kentucky, like most other kids, basketball was always a thing on at least the peripheral of our lives. My parents weren’t avid fans of college basketball or the National Basketball Association, although I remember watching grainy video of West Virginia native Jerry West and legendary center Wilt Chamberlain; great players always seemed to be wearing purple and gold.
A few years later, my cousin who lived in L.A. sent me a care package with some memorabilia. I saw a guy with Magic in his name perform just that with the ball in his hands.
I have been a Lakers fan ever since.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Shaq and Kobe were the ultimate dynamic duo. But there was something unique about the precocious teenager who said he wanted to be the greatest of all time that really resonated with me, from the beginning to the end.
I won’t list all Kobe Bryant’s accomplishments on the court. Suffice to say his five championships and 18 All-NBA appearances make him a first-ballot hall of famer.
It was easy to admire his work ethic, toughness and unwavering commitment to always be true to himself. Those are characteristics to which I aspire.
In memorializing someone, it is easy to paint a false picture. That’s not my goal. Was he perfect? Of course not. We are all flawed individuals, and it can be difficult to reconcile this sometimes. I think he made some terrible mistakes as a human being and will ultimately be held accountable for them.
Still, love him or hate him, his passion and competitive spirit were beyond reproach. Does it forgive his other transgressions? No. But it speaks volumes to basketball fans.
Kobe Bryant wrote about his love for the game in a poem announcing his retirement on Nov. 29, 2015, in The Players’ Tribune. It went on to be turned into a short film that won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. Here it is:
From the moment
I started rolling my dad’s tube socks
And shooting imaginary
In the Great Western Forum
I knew one thing was real:
I fell in love with you.
A love so deep I gave you my all —
From my mind & body
To my spirit & soul.
As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.
And so I ran.
I ran up and down every court
After every loose ball for you.
You asked for my hustle
I gave you my heart
Because it came with so much more.
I played through the sweat and hurt
Not because challenge called me
But because YOU called me.
I did everything for YOU
Because that’s what you do
When someone makes you feel as
Alive as you’ve made me feel.
You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.
And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1
Love you always,
Retirement didn’t seem like the end for him, just a new beginning.
Kobe embraced fatherhood of four girls, championed equality in sports and was making a positive impact on the world in a myriad of ways. Sadly, that second chapter was cut short.
Bryant said he wanted to “savor every moment we have left.” All we can do as fans and those he inspired is savor the moments we had.