"LIFE AFTER DEATH"
It has been two weeks since we got the news that arguably one of the greatest basketball players to ever play the game is no longer with us. Kobe Bryant, 41 and his daughter Gianna, 13 were among 7 others who loss there lives Sunday Morning, January 26th while headed to a basketball tournament at his Mamba Sports Academy. I must admit that I couldn't believe it when I finally read the headlines later that day that he had died in that helicopter crash. I remember seeing a tweet or a notification on my phone that I really wasn't paying attention to early that morning and disregarded. I thought it might have had something to do with Lebron passing his scoring record the night before and figured I would read it later, only to find out that this was the notification that would literally change my life. For two weeks now I have been reflecting and thinking about not just Kobe's and his daughter Gianna's death, but the fragility of life. I, like many of you feel that we have lost a close family member or relative. All of us remember watching Kobe come into the league at the tender age of 18 yrs old, bright-eyed and filled with optimism, and seeing striking similarities between him and Michael Jordan. Of course, at age 18, MJ was definitely Kobe's idol as he was for many of us who grew up watching "His Airness" take flight as No. 23; Shooting Guard for the Chicago Bulls. But, what we remember most about Kobe coming into the NBA, was his declaration that not only was he going to be as great as MJ, but he was going to surpass His greatness. When many people heard this they were immediately turned off by it and dismissed this young's athlete's incorrigible remarks as irreverent and disrespectful, especially coming from someone that no one hardly knew.
But what we discovered over the 20 years that Kobe Bryant played for the Los Angeles Lakers that those were not just words that he uttered, but that this was his motivation everyday that he dawned the "Purple & Gold." It has been said by many who knew him that no one had the drive, the motivation, the devotion and commitment to the game that he had. When he wasn't playing basketball, he was watching film, when he wasn't watching film, he was working out, when he wasn't working out, he was thinking about how he could play the game better. There was a drive that he had within him that was unmatched. And, it was a drive that transferred from the sport of basketball into everything that he touched after basketball. When he retired in 2016, after a Hall of Fame Career with the Lakers, Kobe ventured into other entrepreneurial endeavors, starting the Mamba Academy, working on short films; one of which earned him an Oscar, his Mamba Brand with Nike and i'm sure a whole lot more. At 41, Kobe had accomplished more than most people; and for all intense purposes, i'm sure he would tell you that he was just getting started. One would think that after retiring from basketball at 38 yrs old, that he would be ready to take it easy, take a back seat to a lot things, take the time to spend with his family, take a step back from basketball life and just kick back and relax. Not Kobe! I wonder what it was like to live in the imagination of Kobe Bryant, because I believe in his mind's eye that he could do anything. There was nothing that he couldn't do or achieve if he put the time in that was needed. At times, while playing that confidence was easily viewed as cockiness and arrogance. He played as if he was the best player on the floor. In fact, for most of his playing time in L.A. there was a love, hate relationship that fans had for Kobe because of his perceived arrogance.
In fact, throughout his stellar career there was talk of his arrogance on and off the court, but I didn't really believe it much, because that was not an attitude that he portrayed in most of the interviews that I saw. I always heard that he was hard to get along with, by other players. And, of course we all know about the saga of Shaq & Kobe in L.A. winning 3 championships together, and the flawed relationship they had as teammates with the Lakers. You always heard that they were at odds with one another. In fact, to this day, many L.A. fans blame the Pistons sweep of the Lakers in 2004 to the dysfunctional relationship between Shaq and Kobe, instead of the Pistons overwhelming dominance as a team during the NBA Finals that year. Nevertheless, this was what was said about Kobe as a player, and as a person. And maybe it was because of his intense work ethic, maybe it was because of his immense devotion to the game; of which he had very few rivals. And, his work ethic is what was being misinterpreted as unmatched, unrivaled arrogance that always seem to rubbed players the wrong way. Maybe it was his immense devotion to the game that other players were secretly envious of, because as they looked introspectively within themselves this is what they lacked, and in some ways may have attributed to their sub par status in the NBA compared to Kobe Bryant.
As I began to reflect upon the tremendous life and career of Kobe Bryant, a myriad of thoughts ran through my mind. Gone at 41 yrs of age. So much life left, so many things left to accomplish, so many goals yet to achieve. And, yet many would say that age 41 he had already lived a very accomplished life. In fact, some even said that he died with no regrets. He died leaving everything behind, never holding anything back. This must have been what Langston Hughes spoke of when he wrote the poignant words of "Dreams Deferred."
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore-- And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over-- like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
This wasn't Kobe Bryant. This is not the eulogy of Kobe Bryant. In fact, the very opposite can and must be said of this icon of human being. I would dare say that on that fateful day two weeks ago, Kobe Bryant died empty. He died leaving everything behind. He died having given everything of himself to others, his family, the NBA, the Mamba Academy, his fans, and even to the world. You can see this by the outpouring of love and adoration that he has been given since his untimely demise. Fans literally around the world have been paying tribute to his greatness in ways that are purely unimaginable. Some have done it through tremendous artwork, videos, murals, sculptures, interviews and speeches, and even through social media posts. His life has been reflected through all of us in ways that are a mirror a image of who he was as a person; imaginative, creative, determined and courageous. His 13 yr old daughter Gianna, i'm sure he would say was a BIG part of the legacy of his game that he believe he was leaving behind. Kobe had said in recent interviews that Gianna was going to be the greatest female basketball in the world. I even remember hearing him say in one interview, after being approached by a fan about his retirement and who was going to be his replacement. Kobe said, his daughter; who he affectionately called "Gigi" spoke up and said "Oye, I got this man!" I think Gianna's death is another reason why I along with many of you are taking his death so hard. Gianna was only 13 yrs old, and she definitely had her entire life ahead of her. So much promise, so much potential, it seemed she was just getting a taste of what life was like as the daughter of Kobe Bryant when her life was suddenly taken. Could she have been as great as her father? Could she had transcended the sport of basketball as a female athlete? Unfortunately, we will never know.
Kobe's legacy is the main reason that I decided to write this blog as a tribute to the memory of this great athlete, businessman, father, and human being. Even in his perceived arrogance; I believe, as he got older, there is no one that understood his flaws better than Kobe-himself. Some would like to point to the dark period in his past related to the rape allegations that were levied against him by a young 19 yr old hotel employee in Colorado. Who accused Kobe of rape and pursued criminal charges against him, but were ultimately dropped due to her unwillingness to testify. Kobe admitted to the extra-martial affair, but expressed that apparently the sex that he thought was consensual was not. After this period in his life, Kobe reconciled with his wife Vanessa, and begin a campaign to repair his public image with the media and his millions of fans. He even went as far as to change his jersey number from 8 to No. 24, which in my mind was more symbolic of where he believed he stood in comparison to his childhood idol Michael Jordan rather than rehabilitating his public image. Nevertheless, rapist and sexual abuser was not his legacy, this is not the man that the world mourns, this is not the man who many remember as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. And, this is why it was disheartening to see the clip of Gayle King's interview with former WNBA Star Player Lisa Leslie attempt to disparage the legacy of Kobe Bryant, but insinuating that this sexually deviant behavior could've been apart of who he was and we just didn't know it. I thought this line of questioning was definitely inappropriate as did Lisa Leslie along with many of you. Especially, because Kobe had not been dead two weeks and the one thing that we bring up about his past is his public indiscretion. At a time where his family is grieving and mourning his death. At a time where the world is contemplating life without him. Not only is a dark period in his life being reexamined, but it is being offered as a potential profile of this NBA great that the world may not have known. Totally unfair! But, while I was not in favor of the line of questioning from the interlocutor Gayle King, I was also not in favor of the death threats and other words of vitriol that she received as apart of the aftermath of that interview. I even took to Twitter (@TOLRadioHostMSN) to quote the words of Dr. Martin Luther King in response to his beloved daughter Bernice King's Twitter (@BerniceKing):
Dr. King said immediately following the aftermath of Malcolm X's death and in response to the violent aftermath, "...we haven't learned to disagree without being violently disagreeable." Kobe deserves better. Gayle King deserves better. So, as we reflect upon the life and the legacy of Kobe Bryant; for me, I think the greatest take away is what I used as my Thought of the Week for my show entitled "The Gospel of According to Rev. Marcia L. Dyson." discussing the fragility of life taken from James 4:14, where it says, in essence that life is a vapor that appeareth for a little while and then vanisheth it away. Life is not guaranteed, life is not promised to anyone. And, the one thing that Kobe's death has demonstrated is that regardless of how much money, how much fame you have, everyone is susceptible and vulnerable to the reality of death. No one can escape this reality, no amount of money can acquit you from this harsh reality of life. However, in death your life can be remembered for the indelible mark that you've made in the lives of others. Legacy is the secret to longevity of life. If you want to extend your life on earth, spend your life serving and helping others. If you want to extend your life on earth, spend it pursuing the purpose that God has designed for your life. In doing so, your life will be much BIGGER in death than even you can imagine, and you will have fulfilled the words that Dr. King uttered in what would be the eulogy he gave before his own death entitled, "The Drum Major Instinct" where he concluded, "If I can help somebody as they pass along, if I can cheer someone with a word or song. If I can show someone that is traveling wrong then my living will not be in vain."
RIP Kobe & Gianna Bryant!