As details of the unexpected and tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others aboard a downed helicopter in southern California were unfolding, I was speechless. Shaken. Saddened. Shocked. Stunned.
Kobe Bryant was one my childhood heroes. And heroes aren’t supposed to just suddenly perish.
I knew eventually I needed to get my thoughts together and write something, but I didn’t know what to say. I still don’t.
Why would people care about what I think? How could I write something that would stand out amongst all the other articles, pictures, video tributes, moments of silence and memorials that are still ongoing?
Sure, I could tell you stories about being an impressionable 13-year old kid in 1996 when the Los Angeles Lakers made a draft day trade that made Bryant a teammate of one of my other heroes, Shaquille O’Neal. I could tell you about the countless celebratory moments they provided me as they reached the pinnacles of their careers. I could tell you about the conversations I had with my father back then as he tried to get me to idolize people who were simply more than athletes. I could tell you his reaction when I ordered that Los Angeles Lakers warm-up out of an Eastbay magazine to look more like young, cocky Kobe in the backyard. I could tell you about the time one of my closest friends and I basically maxed out our finances at the time to travel to Los Angeles and attend Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals. I could tell you where I was sitting in the arena as Kobe and co. won that NBA title right here in Central Florida over my beloved Magic.
But then it hit me.
I don’t need to tell those stories in detail. Who cares? Instead, I’d like to encourage everyone – family, friends, foes and fans alike – who are all struggling with the reality of this news, to learn.
Learn how this skinny high school kid who had to have his parents sign his first NBA contract became a global icon that will now live forever. Learn how this icon changed everyone’s perception as a stone-cold “Black Mamba” on the basketball court, to an amazing husband, father and entrepreneur.
Read his books. Watch his interviews and documentaries. Hear the stories of those he impacted. Hear their tears. And not just his teammates, coaches or colleagues. But NFL stars, tennis pros, golfers, baseball players, musicians, Academy Award winners, comedians, talk show hosts, news anchors, political figures and more.
Kobe was just four years into retirement when he died Sunday at the age of 41. He spent 20 of those years in the NBA. Just 17 as a father.
So perhaps my father was right the whole time. Don’t idolize your favorite athletes simply for their accomplishments in their respective sports. Idolize their work ethic. Idolize their mentality. Idolize the respect they’ve earned as husbands, fathers and more along the way.
Kobe Bryant was one of my childhood heroes for his basketball accomplishments. He’ll be one of my heroes going forward, for anything but.