A Reflection On The Death Of Kobe Bryant
The sudden passing of Kobe Bryant has reverberated in virtually every corner of the world.
People who knew him are mourning the loss of a good man. Fans who watched him play on the basketball court and grow up off it are saddened to see his life be cut short in such tragic fashion. Athletes, be it peers in his generation or the new generation who grew up watching Kobe, are almost in disbelief in seeing a hero succumb to the same mortal frailties as the rest of us. The loss of Kobe's 13 year old daughter Gianna in the helicopter crash that cost him his life only compounds the anguish, as nine people in all lost their lives in such a horrific fashion.
It has led to a question that some have asked: Why does the death of an athlete, or any person of celebrity for that matter, garner so much attention and bring on so much grief? It's an individual that many have never met personally, so why does somebody like Kobe dying seem to strike a chord with the American populace?
Let me take a crack at answering that question. But allow me to state that this response will be multilayered.
First, Kobe Bryant was a fixture in the National Basketball Association for 20 years, all of it with the Los Angeles Lakers. He became more than a gifted second generation ball player. He became a transcendent superstar that extended into popular culture. Even if you were not a hoop freak, hell, not even interested in sports, more than likely you knew who Kobe was.
Second, because of his transcendence, he did more than enthrall the sports fan. He not only introduced people to basketball, he introduced young boys and girls into sports. Some of the contemporary stars in many other sports leagues owe their way of life to Kobe, as he served as an inspiration for so many to engage in sport, be it basketball or taking another path to a different game. So many were inspired by Kobe to enter the realm of athletics, and there are more than just a few that view their current way of life in trying to emulate their idol in some shape, matter, or form.
Third, his ubiquitous presence for two decades on television screens and basketball arenas gave all of us who tuned in or bought a ticket a sense that we knew him. Not that the thousands in the stands or the millions watching on broadcasts actually did, but some would see Kobe far more often than their own family members, be it immediate or distant. Even though Kobe may have not felt it, those of us who were engaged did have a measure of connectedness, even if in our own minds.
The fourth part has everything to do with the circumstances of his death. Kobe did not die of natural causes as an octogenerian. Kobe died in a fiery crash at the age of 41. Both the tragic form that was the cause of his death as well as his relative youth strikes a nerve in many people. Life is precious, but it's sometimes forgotten when the toil of everyday existence weighs heavier on the mind. And it seems to be served as a reminder when a person that was idolized is prematurely taken away. Someone like Kobe is greater than us mere mortals. Plus, this not a fate befitting someone of his stature. Kobe was supposed to shepherd Gianna into the Women's National Basketball Association, watch her become a transcendent player to inspire girls (and boys, for that matter) to be the next great player, regardless of which sport it may be. Kobe was supposed to be there as newer generations arrive, as future greats praise him for the road he paved for them. To have all those visions disappear in the blink of an eye is both sad and scary for all of us.
Dealing with grief is one of the most painful events that we all face as human beings. It becomes more difficult when it is either someone who is very close, such as a parent, spouse, sibling, or (God forbid) a child, or if it a person that we develop an emotional bond with, whether the said individual is aware of it or not. And that bond can start from anywhere, from seeing them do feats of athleticism you never seen before to showing great courage in the face of adversity. When it came to Kobe, he invigorated the imagination. He showed that on the basketball court, the improbable was possible. As a result, he enraptured a world and inspired the youth. He was respected by his peers and worshipped by legions of fans. And when he decided to walk away, he was among the Pantheon of hardwood legends. And despite all that, Kobe Bean Bryant becomes one with the ages far too soon.
All we can say is rest in peace, Kobe. And thank you ever so much for all you have done in your short time in this world. You shall never be forgotten.