Kobe Mattered


Like much of the world, I was shaken by Kobe Bryant's death on January 26th. I was on the road to Atlanta to help my daughter catch a flight for a semester abroad when I learned the basketball legend — can legends be so young? — perished in that helicopter crash with eight others, including his own 13-year-old daughter. In the days since, I've found some lessons Kobe left us. I'll share eight of them (in respect to one of his Los Angeles Laker uniform numbers) as I continue to process the tragedy.
  • NBAE/Getty Images

• Ego can be good.
Bryant was outspoken about his desire to have a better NBA career than Michael Jordan's when he was 18 years old. (Jordan still had two championships to win with the Chicago Bulls.) In a sport flooded with ego, Bryant's was outsized, but it became his fuel. He gave himself a nickname (Black Mamba) and it may be the best in basketball history, this side of Doctor J. And by the time his NBA career was complete, Bryant's combination of supreme talent and competitive fire was of a kind that can be compared with only one other player: Jordan.

• Your number is you (not the other way around). I initially found it absurd that the Lakers retired two jersey numbers in honor of Bryant. Then I looked closer. The points Bryant scored wearing numbers 8 and 24 would rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the Lakers' career scoring chart. (Behind jerseys worn by Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Elgin Baylor, and Magic Johnson.) Bryant decided to make a mid-career statement with his number change and added two championships to the three he'd won wearing the first number. Two numbers, one heart.

• It's the recovery that counts. Whatever happened in that Colorado lodge in the summer of 2003, it wasn't good for the Bryant brand. Rape charges were eventually dropped, and a civil suit settled. The superstar lost a lot of fans that summer, and it's up to an individual to decide if sexual assault can be forgiven. The fact that Bryant's wife, Vanessa, stuck with him, that they had three more children, that Bryant was clearly active in his four daughters' lives . . . these are indications of a man's growth. The ugliest of mistakes can be overcome.

• Daughters make a man. Kobe Bryant was a different man the day he died from the man who first became a father — to a baby girl — in 2003. I have two daughters myself, and I know this transformation. Bryant discovered a form of beauty, grace, and most importantly, strength, he didn't know before his daughters arrived. May the hashtag #girldad live on.

• Stay curious. Already fluent in Italian and Spanish, Bryant learned just enough Slovenian to properly trash talk young Dallas star Luka Doncic from a front-row seat at a recent Lakers-Mavericks game. That competitive fire again. Doncic speaks English. Conventional barbs would have sufficed. But Bryant wanted to be distinctive. He wanted to be heard. He wanted to be understood.

• Respect goes both ways. Bryant's Lakers lost to the Memphis Grizzlies in the last game Kobe played at FedExForum (on February 24, 2016). With the outcome decided and less than five minutes to play, Bryant entered the game . . . strictly to salute a fan base that didn't even exist when his career began in 1996. The man who holds the single-game scoring record in that arena (60 points in 2007) made thousands of friends for life that night.

• Don't be satisfied. Bryant won an Oscar, for crying out loud. He was the first African American to take home the prize for Animated Short Film (Dear Basketball in 2018). Kobe Inc. may well impact the world after the passing of its founder and namesake. Perhaps the saddest part of Bryant's death is the fact that it came not at the end of a life stage, but at the very beginning of one.

• Today matters. This is the most obvious and important lesson, of course. Gianna Bryant should be making plans for high school, helping her younger sisters find their own distinctive paths. Spend every day with someone you love. If you can't be in the same room with them, connect. You won't even need to say, "I love you." They'll know. And that's enough.

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