As the country begins to process the shock of the sudden death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gigi, and the other families who lost their precious loved ones, many of us, even Kobe’s biggest fans, are struck by just how extensive an impact he had. We are learning a new element of his past, present and planned future via the 24/7 media coverage he is deservedly being given. And as our hearts break, they also resolve to aim higher, connect with something greater than the sum of its parts and make change.
When you consider Kobe was a 17-year old kid when he was recruited to the NBA and only 19 when he played his first All-Stars game, you believe what those who “can say they knew him when” all say: Kobe was a virtuoso with a myriad of possibilities; Kobe had more determination than most; Kobe had a true appreciation for his station in life and put his gratitude to use.
I’m not going to roll out his multiple on-court achievements in this post. I’m not going to overcomplicate things by addressing what some are addressing in regards to the fact he was not always a perfect human being. The news of the helicopter crash came to my family in its own surreal way. News of any aircraft falling from the sky and leaving no survivors clearly brings on a host of memories for me, Melanie, Brooke, and Max. I sat in front of the TV last Sunday evening watching tribute Tweets tickertape beneath ESPN newscasters sitting at a desk and attempting to talk their way, in front of the camera, through the very first stages of their shock and grief. I heard many say, “I cannot imagine…” and I, of course, could.
But this post is not about my particular re-experiencing of grief either. This post is about living a life that inspires, living a life composed of many acts, living a life of legacy.
Kobe Bryant never left his home team. He never left his first love—basketball. His work ethic and work record, from the very start, were impressive and impeccable: He started practicing daily from 5-7 a.m. while he was in high school. Leaping straight from high school onto the Lakers, Kobe didn’t miss a beat. Byron Scott, his first coach with the team, said, “I heard the ball bouncing. No lights were on. Practice was at about 11:00 and it was probably about 9:00, 9:30. And I go out to the court and I look, and there’s Kobe Bryant. He’s out there shooting in the dark. And I stood there for probably about ten seconds, and I said, ‘This kid is gonna be great.’”
Kobe obviously became a better-than-great basketball player, but he was also a stellar philanthropist and hands-on volunteer. He started his impact legacy with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and over the span of his twenty-year career with the Lakers, personally met with over two hundred children, connecting with their stories and bringing them hope. In 2011, he and his wife renamed his previously founded VIVO Foundation into the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation. KVBFF focuses on expanding possibilities for in-need and homeless youth in Los Angeles, primarily via health, nutrition, education, and sports. The foundation has expanded its reach nationally and internationally, and was a founding donor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Kobe Bryant focused on his sportsmanship and his family, but he also sought out the bigger picture; he always wanted to give back and do more. In 2008, he became a spokesperson for Aid Still Required, creating a PSA to help bring awareness to the ongoing war in Darfur. In 2016, he created Granity Studios, broadening his reach and influence via storytelling and literacy. In 2018, Kobe won an Oscar for Dear Basketball, an animated short film based on a poem he wrote to his game. And most recently, he was in the process of collaborating with famed author Paolo Coelho on a children’s book that was meant to inspire underprivileged kids to overcome adversity through sports.
Kobe was a man much like the man we lost—Brian D. Robertson. Both men died too young, with still so much left they wanted to do. Both men nevertheless made a huge impact.
In November 2019, just two months ago, Kobe told a CBS reporter he wanted to be remembered as “a person that was able to create stories that inspired their children and families to bond together.”
My family’s hearts are with the Bryant family and all of the families onboard that helicopter. My family can imagine what these families are going through, and we are thankful for the hard work and full soul those who are suddenly no longer with us put into everything they did. We are here taking moments of silence, and we will be here to listen to their continuing stories.