Posted on 28 January 2020
Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles, along with eight other people who were on board at the time.
Typing those words is surreal, and I am not alone in feeling that the past 72 hours have been some kind of awful dream from which I keep waiting to wake up.
This can’t be real. It doesn’t feel real.
Trying to sum up Kobe Bryant’s accomplishments in his 41 years feels ridiculous, and I won’t try to here. If you even tangentially follow sports, you know what he did. More of a movie fan? Well, he won an Oscar in there, too.
His commitment to greatness was exemplified in everything he did, from his Hall of Fame career on the court to the storytelling he found himself drawn to after he retired. He was a singular person, one of those men who seemed impossible. How could he do it all?
Remembering him is also extremely difficult for many, many people.
Kobe Bryant was not a saint, and I don’t think anyone other than his most ardent supporters would argue otherwise. He was accused of sexual assault in Colorado in 2003 by a 19-year-old woman, and his attorneys used aggressive tactics, including smearing the alleged victim’s reputation, in making the case go away.
And while he remade himself as a staunch supporter of women’s sports, a loving husband and father, he never did publicly reckon with what happened in Colorado in the way that many feel he needed to.
How you view and remember Kobe Bryant is up to you. That’s your choice. What can’t be denied is that Kobe inspired many people in ways that go beyond trite cliché. That’s why yesterday felt so horrifying, so surreal to so many. People didn’t just look up to Kobe, or admire him — they built their worldview around him. They built their identity around him.
His (some might argue unhealthily) life vision, centered around excellence, around winning, around dominance, convinced a lot of people that they could do more with their lives, that they would not be held down by circumstance.
Kobe built this worldview off of Michael Jordan, but it soon grew to something more. He studied how apex predators hunted to learn more about his own body. This was classic Kobe — anyone else would be fine just accepting that you need a “killer instinct” to win in the NBA. That wasn’t good enough for Bryant. He needed to know what that meant, and how he could replicate it.
This way of looking at the world was, for many people, empowering. It may not have been well adjusted. It probably wasn’t. But it gave people a blueprint. The idea that if you devote yourself enough, if you work harder than can be reasonably expected, if you are willing to dominate, you can achieve anything.
The even bigger appeal of Kobe Bryant was that his worldview was not limited to any certain type of person. Anyone could become a Mamba. He loved underdogs. He would recognize his “Mamba mentality” in NBA legends or Carli Lloyd or an entrepreneur hustling to make the next great American company.
When someone had a clutch moment in any sporting event, you knew to go check Kobe’s Twitter feed — he had undoubtedly seen it, and called it out for its greatness. In doing so, he validated it, in a weird way. When it came to individual brilliance, he was our arbiter.
For someone who built his whole life on the pursuit of individual excellence, he became someone, later in his career, who was so eager to recognize the achievements of others.
He saw that mentality in his daughter, Gianna who also passed away in the crash on Sunday. Kobe Bryant had much more to give the world, but he had written a major chunk of his life story.
Gianna was just getting started, and thinking about what might have been takes this from tragedy to something more, something Earth-shattering, something we might not have the tools to express.
We should also find time in the coming days to learn about the other people who were on board, including John Altobelli, the baseball coach at Orange Coast College, who died along with his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa. Christina Mauser, who coached girl’s basketball, also died in the crash. They may not have had the fame of Bryant, but they all accomplished so much in their lives and were loved by many.
There will be time to reckon with Kobe Bryant, with who he was and what he meant. For now, perhaps it’s best to simply recognize that millions of people around the world drew something from him, whether it be inspiration or a model for living, and today, they — and his family — are grieving. We should have them, especially his wife Vanessa and their surviving daughters, in our prayers.