There have only been three events in my life that I can really, vividly remember where I was when they happened and they are all centered around tragedies. Of course, the first one is Sept. 11, 2001, which happened when I was in the fourth grade. At that time, I didn’t have the intellectual competence to really understand the gravity of what had just happened but I remember so clearly the same images being on every TV channel and that struck me.
The next time I remember every TV seeming to be on the same channel was in 2009 when Michael Jackson died. I was a junior in high school at the time (I am 27 for those of you doing math on your fingers at home) and while I was old enough to appreciate Michael Jackson, loved all his music, and went out and immediately bought his greatest hits album, it still didn’t have quite as profound an effect on me as the passing of Kobe and Gigi Bryant as well as the Altobelli family and all the others in the crash.
I was standing on the putting green at Dairy Creek Golf Course on Sunday morning when I found out about the news. My phone started vibrating off the hook like the gadget that tells you your table is ready at Olive Garden and just like everyone else, I was convinced it was a hoax because he always seemed larger than life, nearly untouchable.
Kobe entered the league in 1996 and won his first title in 2000. I was born in 1992. Growing up just three short hours from Staples Center during the prime Kobe Era would lead you to believe that there was not just one basketball team in LA but only one basketball team in California. His influence was ubiquitous. You couldn’t enter a classroom, an open gym, a restaurant, a doctor’s office or a gas station without seeing some shades of purple and gold.
As a young anarchist, to be completely honest with you all, I hated it. I am not a Laker fan, never have been and never will be, but even I couldn’t help but be astounded by Kobe’s drive and sheer will power. He seemed to me like someone that could literally bend the universe to meet his demands through want and work ethic and I think it’s that which resonated so well and what has led to his almost cult-like following.
However, even with the five titles and MVPs and scoring titles, I think what I will remember most about Kobe was his post-career pivot to devoted father. There are many athletes who can commit themselves to working hard and getting better at their craft. There have been plenty of pros who have woken up early for workouts before practice and have stayed late to get up extra jumpers but I don’t know if I have seen any that have been able to walk away from the game and funnel that passion and same zeal for excellence into every-day, sometimes seemingly benign, things such as fatherhood and coaching your daughters basketball teams.
In eulogizing, I think we often tend to gloss over the rough patches in someone’s life and I personally think it’s wrong. Mistakes are what make us all human and what often lead to incredible personal growth. For Kobe, it is what I admire above all else, even ahead of the work ethic. Since certain accusations were leveled against him in 2003 — which I don’t think we need to go into any deeper at this time — he had pivoted into a devoted father of four girls.
I felt like in the interviews it all really hit him and at that point, he started doing things differently.
For the last three years, when I think of Kobe, I think of him and Gigi sitting courtside. I think about the interview with Jimmy Kimmel where he talks about her continuing the legacy and the confidence with which he said it. I think about the stories of him coaching her basketball teams to championships and that one girl getting in trouble because she missed a game.
I think one thing we can all learn and take away from Kobe is that he knew above all else what mattered to him and he made sure to be the best at whatever that was. For him, it was first basketball and then it was family. Moments like these remind us all of our mortality that marches ever closer as the seconds on the clock tick by. We never know when our last chance to see a loved one could be so I encourage everyone to take some time in the next week to think about who and what really matter to you and pursue those things like they are the only thing.