This article was going to be about who will win the Super Bowl but I couldn’t find myself able to write about it. I’m sitting here on a Sunday night, scrolling Twitter, reading about Kobe Bryant’s untimely passing, and thinking about the frailty of life.
A friend in a group text messaged us Sunday afternoon saying Kobe Bryant had died. I, like everyone else, couldn’t believe it. I went to Twitter (where I confirm all news), found out it was true, and was stunned. Not because I was a huge Kobe Bryant fan (he was awesome…but I didn’t watch much NBA during his heyday) but just because I didn’t even consider the possibility of him dying. It wasn’t even on my radar. He was 41. I’m 35. He was supposed to be appearing at NBA All-Star games as part of an all-decade team until he was 90, and I’ll watch with my son and tell him about when Kobe scored 81 points in a night. That’s how it works.
Even though I didn’t watch much NBA during the height of Kobe’s power, I watched enough Sportscenter to know that Kobe was something special. It was impossible to ignore the Jordan comparisons and, as a kid who grew up on Jordan, I never thought he was as good as MJ. But man, if he wasn’t close, who was?
They both had a drive to compete and win that was unmatched. They both wanted the ball with the game on the line and seemed to come through more often than not. They both hated losing probably more than they liked winning. And they’d both be around forever.
But that’s not how it works. We all know this. Everyone’s time eventually ends. But that doesn’t make it any less painful.
I don’t mean to diminish the passing of anyone else in the crash. There were eight other people who lost their lives, including Kobe’s daughter Gianna, and they all deserve our thoughts and compassion. But the entire city of Los Angeles was mourning Sunday night, lit up in purple and yellow, because one of their heroes was taken from them. And to be blunt, it makes me very sad.
I can remember a few celebrity deaths that shook me. Chris Farley’s passing in 1997, Heath Ledger’s in 2008, Tom Petty’s in 2017. But I was selfish when they died because I thought of me…and how they wouldn’t be able to make anything new for me to enjoy. It was about what I lost, not about them, and it’s shameful to think about as I look back.
However, I was holding my son when I read about Kobe’s daughter being in the crash and imagined Rory growing up without me and was overcome by a sea of sadness. Kobe’s other three daughters have been robbed of, by all accounts, a great father. I am heartbroken today because three children won’t have a father anymore and a wife won’t have her husband.
As I scrolled through Twitter, I saw posts from people Kobe played with and against. Emotional messages from Shaq, Doc Rivers, Chris Collins,Greg Popovich, and Dwayne Wade to name a few. And suddenly I realized that it wasn’t just a father and husband who was lost but a friend. He had a positive impact on so many people that sometimes it’s hard to remember that he wasn’t just a basketball player but he was a real person with family and friends just like the rest of us.
Kobe’s legacy isn’t perfect. Everyone knows about the 2003 sexual assault case that was eventually dropped (with a civil suit settled out of court). But I can hold the idea in my head that part of Kobe’s life was undeniably awful while other parts were undeniably positive. I’m not here to cast judgement nor ignore his previous acts. People are incredibly complicated and this is not the time to count how many check marks he has on each side of his ledger.
Maybe this is all hitting me harder than I thought it would because, for literally a few passing seconds, I saw Kobe last March backstage at the James Corden show. My sister-in-law’s friend was a writer there and he got us backstage when Kobe happened to be a guest on the show. I only saw him for the five seconds it took him to walk from his dressing room to the stage, but I still thought it was so cool to see an NBA hall of famer (I couldn’t believe how tall he was), and I made jokes about how we’d become best friends.
Reading the news today made me think of that moment.
But this isn’t about me being selfish again that I’d lost out on something. This was me realizing that all our heroes are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters with friends who are mourned just like everyone else.
As I put my son to bed Sunday night, I gave him an extra squeeze and a longer kiss on his forehead than normal. We don’t often get to decide when our time ends out but we can decide what to do with the time we are given, so make sure that time is well spent before it runs out.