The last few months have been a struggle for me to find words. Last fall, my wife and I miscarried our baby at 9 weeks. That loss robbed me of any creativity and what I thought mattered, suddenly didn’t. Writing became an afterthought, and I started to wonder if any passion to write would return.
Just yesterday, sitting in church, I asked God for my creativity back. I wanted to start writing again. You’re never really your true self without activating your passions. I remember distinctly thinking, “be careful what you ask for… you might just get that opportunity”. I didn’t think I’d spend the rest of the day mourning Kobe Bryant.
There are very few athletes who measure in stature like Kobe. He was a hero to so many, an icon, a true Los Angeles Laker legend and in retirement from the NBA was positioning himself, in true Mamba-fashion, to be even better as a businessman than he was on the hardwood. Kobe was different from most of his contemporaries, which is why he was at times reviled as much as he was revered. From the start, he blazed his own path, choosing to work at his craft instead of spending his time in nightclubs. The stories of his work ethic are legendary, and they are pouring in now – the 4 am wake up calls to meet him in the gym apparently were not rare.
I felt like I grew up with Kobe Bryant. In fact, this morning was the first time I’ve ever woken up and he didn’t. He was just one year older than me, but from afar, he was like a mentor. He was a giant. In high school, I was in awe of his talent, his charm and his brash determination. Hell, he even went to prom with Brandy, my celebrity high school crush. He had it all, or at least it seemed.
He was destined to be a Laker. It all just made so much sense, then and now. He was a showman, an artist, a master at his craft. Kobe was – Kobe. Unparalleled.
That he patterned his game after Michael Jordan, my basketball hero endeared Kobe to me even more. After Jordan retired, I thought we’d never see any quite like him again. Then Kobe arrived. He was Michael 2.0. He talked like Michael, he smiled like Michael and he was the only other athlete I’ve ever witness have the same type of competitive fire. Kobe, in retirement, was on a path to be like Mike in business too. I was just waiting for the day when Kobe would announce that he, like Michael, had become a majority owner of an NBA franchise. It was only a matter of time.
He was a champion, not just of NBA titles, but for so much off the court. He especially championed women’s athletics and his greatest impact may have been through his four daughters, including Gianna, who we were witnessing channel her father’s basketball talents into her own game. She’s gone too, at 13. Sometimes, though we’ll never get an answer, it seems appropriate to ask God why, doesn’t it?
His death, I still cannot believe I’m saying that, is a loss for all of us. Yesterday was the first time I shed tears over a celebrity passing. As extraordinary as Kobe’s legend is, his death was just as tragic. We aren’t equipped with the capabilities to process these types of losses. It reminds us all that we are all mere mortals. If Kobe, with so many gifts and talents and achievements, can leave us in such an awful way, none of us are exempt.
The NBA is what it is because of his greatness. His death leaves a deep void. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was supposed to grow old with the game, becoming an elder statesman like Bill Russell, continuing to mentor players the way he has LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Trae Young and so, so many others.
Kobe Bryant – husband, father, legend, icon, big brother and mentor – his legend will outlive his 41 years. We’ll never forget him.
Rest easy Mamba, we’ll miss you.