Kobe Bryant wasn’t the best basketball player ever. He wasn’t a perfect role model, or necessarily the type of player you would want your team to emulate in terms of style of play. He wasn’t an analytics darling, and NBA twitter has always been keen to remind you of the flaws Kobe possessed. But he was Kobe Bryant, and he was the absolute best version of himself.
Kobe was a supremely gifted athlete and naturally skilled basketball player, but he didn’t becomes one of the greatest players ever by accident. Kobe embodied a work ethic that I have rarely seen in another person. It truly seemed like whatever he wanted to achieve, he would achieve it. How many game winners did Kobe hit? How many times did he drag a bad team to the playoffs during the non Shaq/Gasol years? Do you remember when he tore his Achilles and walked to the free throw line and drained two perfect free throws in a game the Lakers won by two? That’s how I’ll remember Kobe as an athlete, a surreal competitor who went past his bodily limits to succeed.
As a person, I’ll remember Kobe as a family man, someone who openly loved his family. He seemed to transition into his life as an artist and family man incredibly smoothly, and honestly seemed happier away from the game than when he was playing. The fact that he only had a brief moment to experience the second half of his life in which he seemed to be the happiest makes this tragedy even worse.
When Kobe’s career was winding down, he seemed to open up. Gone was the constant embodiment of the “Black Mamba”, a fierce competitor who wasn’t friends with anyone. He quickly became an ambassador for the game, and was seemingly always willing to give advice to any player that would reach out.
One of the reasons why his sudden passing is so heartbreaking is that Kobe truly felt immortal. He felt like someone who was destined to live forever, or at least outlive everyone else. I remember a story from a few years back when Kobe jumped into shark infested waters. Why did he do that? Who knows. Maybe he thought he could handle sharks. Maybe he wanted to prove how tough he was. Maybe he just feared nothing. Stories like that and the countless others that have been shared of him shed light on the myth of Kobe Bryant. It seemed like he could accomplish anything, and in reality he could.
I would be remised if I did not spend some time mentioning the others who passed during the accident. Nine lives were lost Sunday morning, including his daughter Gianna. I did not know Gianna as well as I felt like I knew her father, but it’s devastating to know that a life was cut so tragically short. She seemed like someone who had a great future ahead and was already a baller like her dad, and it’s incredibly sad that we won’t be able to see her grow.
As I try to process this entire tragedy, I am reminded of a quote that encapsulates what Kobe stood for. “My brain… it cannot process failure. It will not process failure. Because if I sit there and have to face myself and tell myself, ‘You’re a failure’… I think that’s almost worse than death.”
41 years is too little for an enigma like Kobe Bryant, but I know that Kobe lived his life to the fullest in those 41 short years. We will never get to see Kobe make a Hall of Fame speech, never get to see him witness another Lakers championship, never get to see him grow old and succeed in everything he wanted to succeed in. That’s devastating, but I hope when the pain eventually subsides, if only by a little bit, we will all be able to truly appreciate 41 years of a life well lived.