Remembering a Legend
Not despite his flaws, but because of them.
Before I get to Kobe, I want to draw your attention to this piece in the Athletic by Molly Knight, who penned some words about GiGi Bryant.
Sorry if you don’t have a subscription, but it was the only thing about GiGi that I could find. That’s probably because she was 13 and it’s damn near impossible to write something in memory of a person who hadn’t even started to live their life yet, not in any real sense at least.
In the grand scheme of this story, and when we think about what happened yesterday 10 or 20 years from now, she will be a footnote, as will the other seven people who lost their lives. This isn’t just because a famous person was also in that helicopter, because young and innocent people die every day and are still overshadowed, regardless of who else was involved. Even in the most severe tragedies, like a school shooting or a terrorist attack or some such thing, individual lives are remembered as swaths on a larger canvas, the finished product of which inevitably results in “the world sucks, what can you do, move on.”
It’s for this reason that I’ve never been someone who mourns loss, either of a family member or of a famous person. And yet for some reason, the morning after this tragedy, my hands are shaking as I type these words.
I didn’t even like Kobe Bryant. I didn’t like him late in his career when I was convinced he had the worst contract in basketball and I was mad that more wasn’t being made of it. I didn’t like him early, when people compared him to Michael, which was blasphemy in my mind. I didn’t like him after he retired, when people elevated him above Shaq, who I always felt was so much more responsible for those early titles, and I especially didn’t like him in the middle, when it only took people a few years to gloss over what happened in Colorado.
That black mark of Kobe’s career keeps going through my mind, not because I think it should be remembered more on a day like today, but because I myself don’t want to even think about it at all. This would seem antithetical to every fiber of my being, having spent a summer working in the sex crimes bureau of the Bronx DA’s office. There is no worse crime in the world.
And yet all that keeps passing through my mind when I think about yesterday is Bryant’s face and heart as he realized what was happening and the fact that the only thing he could think about at that moment was that his daughter’s life was about to end and there was nothing he could do about it.
My daughter is three years old and since she was born, I have thought several times of the sensation I would have if I knew she was going to die. The pain that flows through me when I have this thought is indescribable to anyone without children.
I force myself to have these thoughts on occasion when I get so wrapped up in life and my own personal goals that I forget what really matters - that quality time with my daughter is more important than recording a podcast or getting the laundry done. She tries to “help” me fold clothes sometime, and I inevitably get mad at her…no, you don’t need to fold that, daddy already did it, but of course no, daddy, I need to do it. Why? Because I just do.
I’ll get mad at her because of guys like Kobe, who’s been teaching me my whole life that a second not spent trying to achieve your goals is a second wasted. Today, I’m reminded that how long it takes you to fold the laundry is far less important than who you get to fold the laundry with.
I’m sure everyone on that helicopter had little moments like this with their kids, just like children who die every day have had these moments with their parents, but the moments I imagine Kobe sharing with GiGi are the ones I can’t stop thinking about, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he is maybe the most overarching sports figure of my lifetime.
Kobe’s drive for greatness was, famously, second to none. I imagine it even surpassed Michael because after a certain point, Michael was peerless and he knew it. Kobe was chasing an impossible standard. He had to know the carrot was always going to be more than an arm’s length away, and yet he continued to strive for it.
This became an obsession of his from an early age, and the stories are many and they are legendary. But many athletes had a drive that was, if not the same, at least similar, and most of those athletes were never accused of anything nearly as heinous as what Bryant was.
All of this- his drive, his relentlessness, his flaws, his growth, his change, his parenting, his greatness - it’s all swirling around in my mind as I try to process his death. It is a cocktail of ingredients that produced a human being and a life that we will never see again.
I see the recent pictures of him looking at his daughter, the video of him speaking about her, the pride bursting out of him as a parent. There is perhaps no one in modern history who was as obsessed with their own greatness as Bryant, and yet he had turned that all on its head with GiGi, and I’m sure with his other kids, and all the children at his basketball academy. They were his purpose in life now.
Kobe Bryant became living proof that change can occur. As a young man, he had convinced himself of his own invincibility, and it led to the greatest mistake of his life. His drive and work ethic that made him famous, I believe, got him to the place where the ability to make such a mistake was even possible.
While perhaps few of us have ever erred so gravely, we’ve all made mistakes. I know I have. And I don’t know that with fame and fortune, my mistake wouldn’t have been worse. But I also don’t know how I would have responded. Our unique situations dictate such things, and all of our situations are different. We all have drive. We all have goals. We are all selfish. Navigating through all of this, both before and after having children, is the impossibility of life.
Today, we mourn a man who both succeeded and failed in this quest on the biggest of stages and in the grandest of fashions, but had seemed to finally reach that place that so few do: content with oneself, but with the same relentless drive, and the perspective to realize what really matters. Today, as much as we mourn Bryant, we should all mourn the loss of what his life would have meant from here on in, because he just now had gotten to a place where the fruits of his journey were begining to pay off, not only for him and his children and the other lives he touched directly, but for all of us. I believe his ambition was that great.
With him gone, we turn back to our own lives, and our own quests to balance the past and the present, ourselves and our families, what matters and what doesn’t. To grow and to learn and to achieve. The fact that he seemed to have figure it out, having reached the depths he did, will continue to inspire me. And the fact that he will no longer be able to help the nameless and faceless among us, like those people on that helicopter who will not be thought about in the same was as Bryant, will sadden me.
Because isn’t that what we want from our legends - to transcend their own greatness and transfer it, in whatever form or fashion, to those around them. He was just getting started.
Kobe Bryant was a man who did great things that wasn’t always a great man. Despite that, and maybe because of it, we should celebrate him today, and always. Maybe this tragedy will help some of us find our own balance sooner than we otherwise would have.
But even that silver lining rings hollow when I think about those final moments, and the children that wake up today without a father.
This is the definition of tragedy.