A Vital Read: Lessons from the Death and Legacy of NBA Legend Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s untimely death calls our attention to essential truths about life, death and legacy that we — the living — often forget.
All it takes is the blink of the eye.
In the blink of an eye, the course of any of our lives can be changed forever depending on which way the pendulum swings in this world of chaos.
In the blink of an eye, on what should have been an ordinary Sunday morning on January 26th, the pendulum swung grimly when a helicopter crashed in Calabasas, burst into flames and abruptly terminated what is sacred to us all: human life. Nine lives in total perished in the crash, according to reports, including world-renowned basketball prodigy, legend and beloved Los Angeles Laker, Kobe Bryant and his daughter.
Death does not discriminate by age, fame, wealth, morality or talent. The crash that Sunday morning reminded us of this inconvenient truth as we were collectively stunned by the sudden, unfortunate death of the NBA superstar and icon, Bryant, at the prime age of 41, along with his 13 year-old-daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
A City in Mourning: “The Soul of Los Angeles Was Taken Away from Us”
In the blink of an eye it seems — in a flash, we lost Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles’ Black Mamba — both the soul and an architect of Los Angeles.
Saturday evening as I headed to bed, Bryant’s name was everywhere in the news due to LeBron James eclipsing Bryant on the all-time NBA scoring list. (Bryant still holds so many NBA records in the game I cannot keep track of them all.)
By the time I woke up Sunday morning, the pendulum had swung cruelly. Now, news of Bryant’s death dominated all news media on various platforms and inundated social media.
Shortly after the news of the fatal crash, a collective mourning swept over and settled on Los Angeles, casting a palpable sadness and gloom among Angelenos, permeating the city’s air and ethos. Similar to the aftershocks of an earthquake, the aftermath of Bryant’s death, along with his daughter and seven others, continues to reverberate throughout the city.
Although I am not a huge basketball fan, I am a part of Bryant’s generation, followed his career and endeavors, on and off the court, his stumbles, and his ultimate growth and rise into man, a father, a husband, author, filmmaker, entrepreneur, philanthropist and more.
I grew up in Los Angeles as he grew up in Los Angeles. However, I was not aware of how I felt strongly connected to Bryant until I found myself, along with many other Angelenos and people around the world, profoundly crushed and impacted by his death. In the process of writing this piece — my meditation on life, death and legacy — to understand and cope with the immense grief and sadness, I had to stop writing at some points because the sadness was too much. His death hit too to close home, as if I lost a brother. I stayed home for a few days, numbed by the grief and shock.
But I was not alone in my grief or shock.
A few days later, while waiting in line at Rite-Aid in Beverly Hills to pick up migraine medication (it truly had been a bad few days), I began talking to writer and producer Rudy Durand a loyal Laker fan and friend of Bryant with a court-side seat next to his other friend, actor Jack Nicholson at the Staples Center.
“There’s a shroud over Los Angeles right now, it’s been tough,” Durand said when I mentioned my sadness. “Kobe was the soul of Los Angeles. “It feels like we lost the soul of Los Angeles. The soul of Los Angeles was taken away from us.”
He mentions that Nicholson — also a long-time court-side fixture at Laker games — had been hit hard by the news and had not left his house.
In a rare interview as tribute to Bryant, Nicholson also expressed the gravity of the deaths. “It kills you. It’s just a terrible event,” the Oscar winner told CBS Los Angeles.
“My reaction is the same as almost all of LA. Where we think everything’s solid, there’s a big hole in the wall. I was used to seeing and talking to Kobe,” he said.
More than a LA Laker: A City’s Bridge, Connector and Architect
Bryant was a universal athletic icon, unique and unparalleled — to whom many felt connected without knowing him personally. He also connected us to one another.
Waiting in line at a Rite Aid in Beverly Hills, one could sense the collective ache of the tragedy. Soon others in the store and waiting in line chimed in — they too felt the grave loss of a life, which touched others whether they were into basketball or not.
Together we bemoaned the senseless accident, which abruptly cut short Bryant’s life in his prime as he was flourishing in ventures off the court and expanding the reach of his influence. Bryant was creatively expanding his horizons, spreading his wings, transforming himself and growing into his manhood and fatherhood with class and honor.
Durand said Bryant was an amazing father, a positive role-model for young black men (men of all colors as well) and an astute businessman. Durand told me about Bryant’s charitable work, savvy business investments and the founding of his Mamba Sports Academy.
Bryant built much more than his own sports academy; he is also credited with making Staples Center the popular, well-known arena we know today.
“He helped build this arena,” said Lee Zeidman, the President of Staples Center since it opened in 1999.
At Staples, Bryant, a main attraction, drew crowds to the arena and made it both a popular destination and his personal stage to show off his supreme athletic skill, prowess and personality.
In the aftermath of his death, the numerous lives Bryant touched and influenced was powerfully evident at the Staples Center Arena located in downtown Los Angeles. As if passing through a pilgrimage, between 250,000 to 350,000 people trekked to and visited Staples Center to hold vigil, pay respects to Bryant, unite and share in their grief.
Many left behind offerings and remnants to honor Bryant: 500 handwritten notes, 350 pairs of sneakers, 1300 basketballs, numerous jerseys, stuffed animals, photographed and a bounty of flowers and bouquet — too many flowers for the arena to count.
Los Angeles Blows . . . Dust in the Wind
As I exited Rite Aid feeling kind of blue, a sudden onset of fierce winds hit Beverly Hills, blowing forcefully causing the palm trees to sway violently and rustle loudly. It seemed Los Angeles, too, needed to grieve the death of her citizen powerhouse, Kobe Bryant, an individual synonymous with the city of Los Angeles and the Lakers.
When I got home, I texted my ex-husband, a true Laker fanatic, because I was perplexed by the grand impact the of Bryant’s death:
Me: “Why is Kobe’s death affecting all of us so much? Everywhere I go — even me and I’m not a huge basketball fanatic.”
Ex-Husband: “Because he was so important to LA and the death was so sudden, shocking and random.”
After more than 20 years living in Los Angeles, this was the first time I sensed a collective communal grief of the city that crossed across so many social and cultural lines and other demographics: race, sports fan or not a sports fan, class, economic lines, neighborhood demographics and more. Bryant was adored across all walks of life.
The violent winds continued to blow for a while creating a noisy ruckus as I sat writing these words. The winds caused the palm trees to scrape against my windows and blew leaves and stones at the window’s glass panels. Eventually the winds came to a halt as abruptly as they began to blow when I left the store.
In my mind, the city had experienced a brief moment of catharsis.
A Legend’s Journey and Legacy
“Mamba Mentality isn’t about seeking a result. It’s about the journey and the approach. It’s a way of life” — Kobe Bryant on the motto behind his Mamba Sports Academy
Bryant’s unexpected and unforeseen death, a tragedy, a loss of a human life, a powerhouse in his prime pierced the illusion of our invincible present lives, where death remains a vague event (rather than a certainty) that will occur way down the road.
As we journey through our lives, we often forget the other companion at our side journeying along with us: our eventual death. This fact is not a macabre or somber truth; it is simply the price we pay for our existence, for being born.
Death is a reality we tend not to face despite that it can happen at any point in our lives. We tend to gloss over this hard truth with the “business” of our day-to-day lives and gamble when we assume we have long lives ahead of us despite that death can happen at any point in our lives as evidenced by Bryant’s death.
Bryant’s senseless death, an accident, should prompt us to question: what legacy are we leaving behind if the grim reaper happens upon us tonight, tomorrow, a year from now? What have we done with this precious, brief time on this planet? It should make us ask these questions to live more fully, joyous, purposeful lives.
“Death is the end of those who have done nothing to cause their names to live after them.”
Since the deadly crash on what should have been an ordinary Sunday morning, the meaning of Bryant’s life to the masses of lives he touched, the collective, profound loss and mourning of Kobe Bryant, the man and his power, his talent, contributions and influence have been illuminated everywhere: tears wept by those who knew and did not know him, countless condolences tweeted and on Instagram, statements issued by President Barack Obama and legions of other legends inside and outside of sports.
Bryant’s death dominated the Grammy’s during which singer Alicia Keyes expressed to the audience the impact and depth of Bryant’s death:
“Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
The Oscars also paid tribute to Bryant, who won his first Oscar for short animated documentary, “Dear Basketball,” dedicated to the symbiotic love between him and his basketball.
At Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy, where vigils were also held with an abundance of flowers and candles, Norma Buha talked about the positive influence Bryant had on her two young sons, who looked up to Kobe Bryant as their role model.
“Kobe was a big part of their growth as children,” Buha said. “His work ethic is what got them through hard times and…when they would moan about having a little practice (I’d say) ‘Look at Kobe, he gets there before and he’s practicing, and after the games he keeps shooting. Don’t give up. Don’t give up.’”
An Inconvenient Timing
What also saddened me was the inconvenient timing of Kobe Bryant’s death. This athletic prodigy was transforming, experiencing a public metamorphosis from being a paragon and the best on the basketball court into an adoring father and adult man using his skills talents, wealth and gifts to create art and positive social change and impact outside of Staples Center arena.
As President Obama wrote, “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.”
After Bryant’s 20 years with the Lakers, Bryant’s meaningful second act will have to play out through his legacy and the good works he left behind but without the man himself.
Yet he will forever remain with and be remembered by the lives he touched and influenced during his journey in his life creating a grand NBA legacy and his family. His legacy will continue to be honored in history.
Nicholson said he would miss Bryant forever. “We’ll think of him all the time and we’ll miss him. He was just one of those who touched people.”
Another lesson that struck me about this tragedy: We should be grateful and appreciate every second — every moment here we are gifted with life. More importantly, we should ask what are we doing with this gift? Are we happy? Are we creating joy for ourselves and others? How are we touching and influencing people’s lives?
With work, mounting to-do lists, bills, bills, bills, our country’s mad politics and more, it is easy to lose sight of the big picture of our lives, albeit however brief or long. This tragedy reminds me of the importance of pausing and taking time to reflect and take an inventory of our lives and ask these questions so we can chart or redirect our course to create lives meaningful to ourselves and others.
Because all it takes is the blink of an eye.
Fortunately, for all of us, in Bryant’s 41 years here he accomplished heroic feats says quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady recently wrote, “He was the real-life superhero our world needs. That’s what we all miss. That’s why we hurt. Because we know he was always fighting against the norm. He was doing more than his share. Now who is going to do the work that is still here to be done? Who is going to fight and break the norms with love and joy and inspiration?”
SSC — A native Californian, Angeleno and lover of words, music, books and philosophy.