The beauty–and tragedy–of being human is that you can place focus and stock in various things, figuring out how each of them impacts you on a day-to-day basis. We can care about the fires in Australia while still rallying against gun violence in Baltimore. We can care about Billie Eilish winning Album of the Year (full disclosure: I haven’t heard much from her besides a few other singles) while still keeping up on the impeachment proceedings. The tragedy lies in the fact that, even while keeping up with everything, there are some things that will happen that will still shake you.
I wanted to write about Kobe Bryant and how amazing a player he was, how dedicated a father he was, and how his impact will be felt for generations to come. I wanted to talk about his 81-point game or his 1997 Slam Dunk Contest win or the fact that he dropped 60 in his final game. Truth be told? I can’t, at least not in great detail. It stings too much right now. Unlike a lot of celebrity deaths recently, this one hits differently.
The somewhat rambling nature of this piece is a result of me trying to come to terms with it all.
As a Black man, a basketball fan, a father, and just a human being, I’ve spent the last 72 or so hours trying to wrap my head around this. Mothers and fathers lost children, children lost parents, the sports world lost a legend, and nine lives were gone in an instant. As much as I try to come to terms with the deaths, I keep coming back to the same point: it just doesn’t make any damn sense.
Yes, people die. I’m from Baltimore and know this all too well. That’s not what I mean. For me, the confusion, sadness, and grief I feel for Kobe Bryant, his family, and the families of all who lost their lives, it takes me back to a dark time.
It puts me back in 2015.
In 2015, it was negative event after negative event. In the beginning of 2015, I almost lost everything I’d worked hard for due to some horrible decisions. My mother died suddenly and instantly from a massive heart attack on March 28. In the fall of 2015, the man I called my stepfather lost his daughter and granddaughter in a fire. The only positive of the year was the birth of my second child, Jeremiah. Aside from that, the pain, grief, and anguish I felt that year, it is something I’d never wish on anyone. It made me reevaluate many of my choices up to that point and try to correct and atone for my failures as a man and as a father. It allowed me to tear myself down and rebuild to be a better person for those around me. To get to that point, though, I went through hell.
After my mother’s death, I had night terrors to the point I asked my psychiatrist for trazodone just to sleep. After about two weeks, the dosage I was on stopped working. This lent itself well to spending hours staring at the walls while curled up, trying to make sense of the loss I experienced. For months, I struggled to put myself back together, even though I wore the facade of someone who had life figured out. I had to. My mother wouldn’t have been able to rest had I not pushed forward. But the pressure of it all, it almost made me contemplate drinking again just to pass out and mentally run away until I’d sobered up.
I poured myself into music and creating a Speed that my mother could be proud of. It worked. After five years, I thought that, while I’ll never forget the tragedies of 2015, I’d at least was a bit more hardened to them, a bit less emotional about them.
Kobe’s death brought a lot of those feelings back. It becomes a bit perplexing dealing with them. That is, as a human, you’re allowed to feel sad for the loss of nine lives. Sure, they’re not related to you, but even the most-unempathetic asshole should feel a bit of “damn, this is unfortunate” energy. But, you can’t help but feel robbed when death happens, even more than if you knew it was coming. But deaths like Bryant’s are sudden and harshly remind you of your own mortality, regardless of your status. They may make you angry or question the “fairness” of life. This is all part of the grief process. It doesn’t make going through it any easier.
We often look to people we care about or look to for guidance as almost invincible, even if we know they err. Kobe Bryant was human. He erred. He was probably the first to admit this. For example, with his sexual assault case, he apologized to the woman he was accused of assaulting. He realized “hey, I messed up and I apologize.” He remains one of a select few athletes who admitted fault in a tragic situation and offered an apology. In a #MeToo world, that speaks volumes to Kobe’s character. Keep in mind, I’m not saying he assaulted the woman, but I am saying he admitted fault in the situation. Most of your favorites could never.
However, even with his flaws, many of us felt that he would end up like Kareem or Bill Russell, imparting knowledge to various generations after him. While we knew he was human, it felt like he’d live forever. Yes, his career immortalizes him in the history books. We’ll never forget what the Black Mamba did on the court and off of it. His pedigree runs long. Even with that in mind, though, he was 41 and a father of four above all when he lost his life.
Kobe Bean Bryant was ten years older than I am now.
That’s some scary shit to think about and it puts a lot of things in perspective. It adds an additional wrinkle to his death for me. Similar to Nipsey Hussle’s death, losing Kobe in this manner has made me want more. In talking with True about Kobe’s life and things going on in our own lives, we came to a point where we talked about our kids. We’ve both been active in our children’s lives. Even still, we want to make sure that whatever time we have left on this earth, we continue to put out great energy for them and for those we love.
Maybe that’s the silver lining in Kobe’s death.
It reaffirms that we, as humans, need to put that positive energy into the world. We never know when death will come and we shouldn’t live with regret or anguish about situations. That doesn’t mean bring every negative person back into your life if you cut them off. It does, however, mean that we have to live our best lives, even when things look bleak. We must be there for our children, our family, our friends, our world. We must enjoy life, for it is fleeting.
Mourn the Calabasas Nine however you see fit. Cry. Grieve. Laugh. Celebrate. Play 2K and have Kobe break Wilt’s record by 200 points if you need to. But never lose sight that Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and her family, Payton Chester and her mother, Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan lived and died doing what they loved. Also, don’t be a jerk to people grieving. They may not have the mental wherewithal to drop a deep tribute exactly when you want it (ex. LeBron James essentially being bullied into making a tribute post when he did to appease people).
When I say be like Kobe, I mean exude positive energy and do what you love. You’ll never regret your life that way, even if it’s tragically cut short.
Rest easy, Mamba. Go easy on the other legends when you play one-on-one with them.