The Sudden Loss Of Kobe Bryant
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – It’s foolish to mention that Kobe Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Everybody knows that about Kobe Bryant – everybody knows everything about Kobe Bryant. He’s bigger than basketball. He’s greater than basketball.
He’s not with us anymore. It doesn’t make sense, because Kobe can’t cease to be a part of us and he can’t leave basketball. He, along with a few select others are the reason basketball is what it is today, and he will forever be a part of that. To be intertwined with that so intimately and to be gone at the same time is beyond comprehension.
But he’s bigger than that. Again, Kobe is greater than basketball.
We lost Kobe Bryant the basketball player on April 13, 2016 when he played his final game against the Utah Jazz. Kobe the basketball player came and went and changed the game like great players do. He made great plays, hit impossible shots, won championships, broke hearts, made fans, and forever stitched his name into NBA and Laker lore.
But Kobe Bryant the person, the celebrity, the global icon, the father, the husband, the superhero, the elder statesmen, that Kobe didn’t leave when he retired, he was still with us. He never left. Until he did.
And now he’s gone.
It was striking to watch Kobe Bryant the basketball player determine what was going to happen on the basketball floor. There’s supposed to be nine other players on the floor, four teammates, and five opponents that dictate what happens next. That didn’t matter when Kobe was on the floor. He determined the outcome of each play, the outcome of each game, and the outcome of each season.
When he tore his Achilles tendon, Kobe stayed on the floor and shot his free-throws and walked off the court under his own power. Again, Kobe determined every outcome on the basketball court, even when his body failed him.
Kobe suffered the injury when he was 34-years-old, an age when father-time has ended the careers of most of the best basketball players in the world. It didn’t end his career, Kobe determined every outcome on the basketball court.
After his injury, an injury that is supposed to end careers, Kobe came back. He didn’t need to, his legacy as one of the greatest to ever do it was cemented. His will to win, his competitiveness, his greatness was never going to be questioned. He didn’t come back to eliminate those doubts. He came back because he determined every outcome on the basketball court, and he wasn’t going to let someone or something else make that decision for him.
It didn’t matter that Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in the final game of his career. It didn’t matter that he beat the Jazz. It didn’t matter that the Lakers needed Kobe to be superhuman one more time to close his career with a victory. We knew it was going to happen, the opponent didn’t matter, the gameplan didn’t matter, the circus of it all didn’t matter. Kobe was going to determine what happened on the floor.
But because of his ability to determine those outcomes, it just seemed fitting that Kobe Bryant would determine each outcome for the rest of his life.
When LeBron James passed Kobe on the all-time scoring list Saturday night, it felt as if Kobe allowed it to happen, as if Kobe granted LeBron permission to overtake him. LeBron wasn’t chasing Kobe, nobody is chasing Kobe. Kobe Bryant stands alone, regardless of where his name sits on all-time lists. Kobe is transcendent, Kobe will exist forever.
But he’s not with us anymore.
Unlike his time on the basketball floor, Kobe Bryant didn’t get to determine how his life would end. Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash with his daughter Gianna and seven other passengers in Calabasas, California Sunday morning. He was only 41 years old.
There was a love-hate relationship on the basketball floor for everyone who watched Kobe play and inevitably beat their team. We hated how ruthlessly he competed and won, but we loved that he had found the greatness that we all strive for. His competitiveness was recognizable, it was personal, it was endearing, it was devastating.
Kobe Bryant approached his profession the way most of us strive to approach life. He was fearless, he was unapologetic, he was skillful, and he was great. In that way, we all knew Kobe Bryant in a way that is usually reserved for how we know ourselves. At least we hope it’s how we know ourselves.
His passion was universal and recognizable. His fire was one that we all share, but his fire was on display for the world, for the rest of us to observe and share and embrace. We felt it. In that way, Kobe Bryant was a superhero that was somehow humanized and approachable and relatable. We understood his greatness, even when it was painful.
Now in his absence, we’re reminded of the vulnerability that exists with all of us while we’re here. If Kobe can be taken away, anyone can be taken away. We aren’t superhuman, we only try to be.
Kobe seemed like he got close.
We have a relationship with sports, it brings us together. We all know ultimately it doesn’t matter, and there are bigger things than the outcomes of the game that we all value more greatly, but we love our teams and we grow to love the players. We love the players because they are a conduit to the sports that bring us together, which allows us to be a part of something.
But Kobe was different.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t a conduit for us to relate to basketball, basketball was a conduit for us to relate to Kobe Bryant.
We lost that, and him. It’s a big loss.