These are all words that have been assigned to describe Kobe Bryant in his lifetime.
I’ll just get this out in the open right here and now.
I was never a Kobe Bryant fan. I didn’t like Kobe Bryant. As a player and, at times, a person. I grew up watching him but never bought into the hype. I didn’t get it. But that was then and this is now. And since then I’ve learned that just because you don’t like someone doesn’t mean you can’t respect them and understand that they were liked and meant a great deal to many people.
So, that being said, I’m not here to write a re-cap of his greatest moments and put together a highlight reel of his life and career. To do so would feel disingenuous and wrong. To be frank, it’s only just now settling in. It’s been a few days and I’m still searching for ways to collect any thoughts on this. But fellow Turf contributor Tim Olsen crushed it only hours after the news broke.
I also have learned, as I have grown and matured, that my capacity to understand just how hard it is to be a person has grown along with me. To, at least try to, understand the varying shades of gray in the world that exist in between the black and white ways we tend to look at life as children. To accept that not every mistake is made equal. Punishing people for their mistakes and looking at them for only their flaws does no good to any of us. We show our strengths as people when we learn to accept that we have capacity for growth and change in the face of those challenges.
Wait For It
When I first read the news, I, much like others, was in a state of disbelief and shock. This couldn’t be real, could it? After finding out devastating and dumbfounding news such as this we often turn to music and photos and art to try to express words that suddenly seem somehow harder to come by. For me the first thing the popped into my head was from another phenomenon, the Tony Award winning musical, Hamilton. A certain set of lyrics in the song, “Wait for It”, managed to come to form on my lips and in my head and say what I didn’t know how to. And better than I certainly could in that moment. We are a site full of and founded by theater people, remember?
“Death doesn’t discriminate,
Between the sinners
And the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes
And we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall
And we break
And we make our mistakes.”
When someone is taken from us suddenly and unexpectedly, whether we knew them personally or they were a figure that seemed larger than life itself, it cuts deeper and hurts differently. Certainly no one woke up thinking Sunday was the day that an athlete, superstar, icon, father/mother, husband/wife, sister/brother, son/daughter, aunt/uncle or friend would be taken away from them so suddenly and unknowingly. That’s not to say that we don’t mourn our heroes with respect when they die older. It doesn’t diminish their legacies in any way.But we, as a whole, at least feel that they had a full chance to make their mark on the world and to go out on their own terms so to speak.
Although Kobe left the hardwood on his own terms he was robbed of the opportunity to do so in life. He wasn’t a perfect man. Far from it. But now, as we look back on his life, he was someone who was dedicated to learning and growing and eventually teaching. He was bigger than the game of basketball. He was not universally loved in life. I’m not going to pretend that he will be in death either. But his legacy, much like others that were taken far too soon, will likely overshadow his flaws and his mistakes. In these initial days of shock and numbness and sadness most of us are choosing to magnify his greatness. And we should. Because in the long run he did way more good than he did bad.
I Am The One Thing in Life I Can Control
Grief is a fickle beast. It is unrelenting at times, and it can feel suffocating. It can look normal one moment and then it can sneak up behind you and feel absolutely crushing in the next. But there is no doubt that it changes and the way we each handle it manifests itself differently and individually. Like I said earlier, humans are complicated. Much like grief itself we are all full of surprisingly intricate and perfectly imperfect idiosyncrasies.
So it seems un-called for to “well, but” or take cheap shots in any attempt to lessen how one person or a collective people choose to mourn and grieve. I feel lucky to have only grieved largely a few times in my three plus decades on Earth and I know I have plenty more significant ones coming my way. Such is the nature of life. But let’s all do each other, and especially the families and close friends of those tragically taken from us too soon, a large favor. Let’s give them permission to remember and mourn those they lost without pointing out all the things they weren’t instead of what they were and what they meant to us.
I’m certainly not here to tell you what the right response is for you. That’s not how this works. We don’t get to dictate other people’s feelings. So choose to honor Kobe and Gigi and the 7 other passengers however you want. You always have the choice to honor the memory of people you admired and loved in whatever way you want to.
I Am Inimitable, I am an Original
We have certainly dissected the flaws of Kobe’s character before and we will continue to do so long into the future. But that’s not what his memory deserves in these initial and jarring days. It deserves the space to let us decide individually what his legacy will look like. For me it looks like someone who was as proud, if not more so, of what he did in the little time he had after being on the court as he did when he was on it.
People say that life isn’t always fair. But, in reality, death is generally much more unjust as to when and who it chooses to take from us. For now I’m willing to wait for this to all sink in.