The morning started like most Sunday mornings…coffee and family time. My wife and I sat at a coffee shop planning an upcoming family trip. It was a slow morning after a busy week of travel. Then, we headed back home to talk through the trip with our daughters. I was bringing up a map on my phone when I heard the news that Kobe Bryant had passed. I let out a sigh of NO. My family heard it and asked what was wrong.
I immediately opened my ESPN app. My heart was racing. Please tell me this is not true. I didn’t see any breaking news, so I checked the LA Times…nothing. I had hope. In a world of fake news, maybe what I saw earlier was a false report. The glimmer of hope lasted about five minutes, then it was confirmed, Kobe had died in a helicopter accident. After an hour or so, reports came out that his 13 year old daughter, Gianna, and seven others lost their lives as well.
I was devastated. It’s a surreal experience to feel your heart breaking. It’s a soul-crushing moment and your life flashes right in front of you. You see, growing up in California in the 80s, the Lakers were life. California is massive with a large population, but the Lakers made us all feel connected and small, as if we were neighbors. Nor Cal and So Cal would always be at odds, and we usually split the other sports teams: Niners or Raiders, Giants or A’s or Dodgers. No one cared about the Angels, Clippers and Warriors back then. When it came to basketball, we all rooted for the Lakers. It’s one of the few things that united us. From old stories of Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain, to Magic and Kareem’s Showtime, the Lakers were our team, our family. Growing up in a broken and violent home, the Lakers were often my respite. When Magic had to retire early due to HIV, Laker Nation mourned, and for the first time, we were average.
After years of mediocrity, the spark of 1996 finally arrived. We signed Shaquille O’Neal and we traded for a high school kid named Kobe Bryant. ‘96 was a good year for the Lakers and for me…it’s the year I married my wife. A few years later, the Lakers would win their first Championship led by Shaq and Kobe. I remember the joy of that moment vividly because my wife was pregnant, and two weeks after the championship our daughter would arrive I became a father – the best day ever!
Like Kobe, my life was full of ups and downs, good times and bad times, winning and losing. Thankfully, we both grew and matured. He won five championships, retired and is now known as an amazing husband and father, putting family first. Post Shaq years, Kobe was being doubted for his greatness, critics were asking, ‘could he win without Shaq?’ Meanwhile, I was starting a nonprofit that would help keep families together who live in extreme poverty. In the early days of Help One Now, the Lakers were once again back on top. I was living in Austin, TX. Many nights, I would put my daughters to bed and, if it was the NBA season, I would stay up late working on my laptop, watching Kobe work on the court, chasing his dreams to become the best.
Here’s the thing about Icons, they make us feel connected. To be clear, Kobe is a rare breed. He played for one team for twenty years, from a teenager to a hall of famer. As a Kobe fan, I invested in him and his success and Kobe gave something back to me: he became a man, a husband, a father and a champion. I would study his work ethic, his determination, what time he woke up and how he would prepare against his opponents. I could also do that. I could work hard, prepare well, hustle in the early mornings and the late nights. He would take the court and perform in front of millions, I would take a stage and share stories of families who are suffering from poverty and how we could make a massive difference in their lives. Yes, our lives were intertwined in many ways and we were both chasing a legacy, but also haunted by our demons, the naysayers and the doubters.
And that’s the thing about icons…I was shocked at how much the news of his death affected me. I don’t know Kobe. We’ve never met. If we had met, I would have told stories of these families whose lives are better, and the kids who now have hope. I would have told him that his commitment and work ethic was an inspiration. I think he would have been grateful that I cheered him on in the best and worst of times and somehow, we both tried to make the world a little brighter.
It’s okay to feel sadness and to mourn the loss of an icon. A few weeks ago, I was watching the Lakers as Kobe attended a game with his daughter, Gianna. In all honesty, I have not kept up with Kobe much post basketball, but I know he was doing some amazing work and every time you saw him in the news, it was positive. The night before his death, I was watching LeBron top Kobe on the all-time scoring list, and on his shoes he honored Kobe. Later, Kobe would honor LeBron for his achievement. It was a proud moment and showed the maturity and heart of the Mamba, that you could be fierce and humble. As a young teenager, he was arrogant. As a 40 something husband and father, he became humble.
Like much of the nation, my Sunday was one of mourning and tears and heartbreak. I was able to reflect on my life and all that is good and Kobe’s life and all that was good, and somehow, in the midst of the loss, I was able to feel joy and hope. We lost a legend. I’m terribly sad for his family. I lost a legend, but they lost everything. I hope and pray that they feel our love and strength and somehow they can use our prayers and positivity as a way forward. We are thankful that they shared Kobe with us and because of that, the impact is truly amazing.
As for Kobe, he was a workhorse, a creative genius with a big heart to give back. Kobe Bean Bryant was far more than a basketball star. He was human trying to do what he could to be a good husband, father, and neighbor, and no doubt, he did that. He was a champion at life and may his impact live on for the ages!
It’s okay to mourn the loss of an icon. At the end of the day, they are humans and they have the same desires we all have — they just live their lives in front of millions. Yet, we can all find ways to inspire each other and make the world better.
Kobe used a basketball. You can use your gifts, talents, passions, and resources to do the same, and this is a great way to honor Kobe and other icons who stood before the masses, created a culture and inspired us all.