Written by Aiden Holczer
As sports fans, we often view our favorite athletes as invincible. Maybe it’s because of their physical nature and God given abilities, or maybe, and I believe most likely, it’s because of what they achieved in their sports. Championships, records, and MVP’s last forever, life does not. This is a fact that as humans we understand, yet only fully comprehend in moments of tragedy. And on Sunday, January 26th, a tragedy once again forced us to face this reality of life. 5x NBA Champion, 18x All-Star, 2x Scoring Champion, and former MVP Kobe Bryant passed away alongside his 13 year old daughter Giana, and 7 others in a helicopter crash. They were on their way to a basketball game.
Some might see their intended destination as a cruel instance of irony. The game Kobe loved ended up indirectly killing not only him, but his child. But those people don’t know the real Kobe Bryant. If they did, they would know that above all else, basketball included, Kobe valued his family. His four daughters: Giana “Gigi”, 13, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and his youngest Capri, 7 months, were his greatest achievements. And he and his wife of 19 years, Vanessa, stuck together through thick and thin, putting their children before all else. These sentiments have been expressed throughout the sports world by former teammates and friends in the wake of his death. From Shaquille O’Neal and Matt Barnes, all the way to Stephen A. Smith, all mentioned Kobe Bryant’s achievements as a father and as a man before those achieved on the court. All drawn to tears at the task of describing their friend.
A father, a friend, and a basketball legend, gone in the blink of an eye. Perhaps above all else, it is the shocking out-of-the-blue nature of this tragedy that has caused the sports world to be affected so dramatically. When Muhammad Ali died, the boxing world was sad at his passing, but understood that at the age of 74 combined with Parkinsons and an unfathomable amount of head-trauma accumulated throughout his legendary career, this was an accepted reality. When Lou Gehrig lost his battle with ALS at the young age of 37, the baseball world was hit hard, yet foresaw this outcome from the early stages of diagnosis. When someone dies from a surprise heart attack or fatal car crash, we view these deaths as instantaneous. One minute they’re here, the next minute they’re not. We say things like “at least it was quick” like that is some form of comfort to the grieving families. And we pray that the victims were not able to fathom their impending doom while in the process of succumbing to death.
But in the case of Kobe Bryant, we can’t tell ourselves these things, without being criminally disingenuous. We all know that Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and the 7 other passengers on the helicopter, were aware that they were going to die, whether we chose to acknowledge that is a different story. I don’t have kids, but being faced with the prospect of having to tell my child that “everything is going to be okay” when both I and they know that it isn’t, is a scenario that haunts the darkest recesses of my brain. However, this was the reality that Kobe Bryant was faced with, and I don’t question for a second whether or not he did what a parent should, and comforted his child until the very end.
Kobe may have left us in the physical sense, but his legacy lives on. It can be found inside of the three daughters he has left behind and in his famous “Mamba Mentality”. Kobe himself summarized this mindset best in an interview with Amazon Book Review, “ [The] Mamba Mentality is all about focusing on the process and trusting in the hard work when it matters most”. Bryant wasn’t just speaking to his fellow athletes, but to everybody. Everyone can take the Mamba Mentality and apply it to their own walks of life and see improved outcomes, however, it is hard seeing anyone applying it better than Kobe himself. The stories of Kobe’s work ethic are numerous and legendary, but as the saying goes, “a picture speaks a thousand words”, and when I think of Kobe Bryant’s career, it isn’t summarized by championships, MVP’s, or any other individual awards, its summarized by the image of a young Kobe Bryant, with his training gear over his pajamas and a cast on his right hand, shooting free throws left handed in the early hours of the morning.
That is the Kobe Bryant I will remember for the rest of my life. My heart goes out to the Bryant family, and the families of the other victims, and I hope they find comfort in these tumultuous times.