When Kobe died last Sunday, I was getting ready for church. Going about my normal day. I was sitting in a pew just as church was starting when my husband turned around and said to me, “Kobe Bryant just died.” You know how sometimes people will say things to you in a language you know but none of the words fit and it sounds like another language? That’s how I felt. He repeated himself at my request and I immediately went to Google to verify his news…sure he was wrong. He wasn’t. I spent most of the day on Sunday tracking the story. For a minute there was a mistaken report all four of his children were with him, there was a false report that Rick Fox was on the fated flight. There were reports that three others were gone, then five, then finally, nine. I was tracking the report when confirmation that all of Kobe’s children were not on board, but his Gianna was. I couldn’t figure out why, but I was…numb. The kind of numb-sad that you get when someone you KNOW dies. I didn’t know Kobe. Hell, I didn’t even like most of what I knew. I’m a SUNS FAN. I bleed orange. I don’t buy stuff that has purple and yellow in it together. The Lakers SUCK. But I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t shake the numb-sad weirdness all day on Sunday, or for several days after, so I decided some introspection was in order to figure out what on earth I was mourning.
Kobe was born on August 23, 1978. That makes him exactly one month older than me. He graduated from high school in 1996, the same year I did. He was a kid when he came into the NBA, but I was a kid at the same time. A kid, who thought I knew everything, not unlike Kobe. I mean, I wasn’t signing contracts worth millions of dollars, but I was growing up at the same time as Kobe. I think that’s the part that connects me to him. Kobe made mistakes. He was selfish on the court, rude at times to his coaches and teammates, and then there was the sexual assault charges, known since his passing as “the Colorado incident”. The accuser refused to testify, charges were dropped, there was an out of court civil settlement, he admitted to mistakes that night, cheating on his wife. She almost left him. It scared him, he loved her and he seemed to work at getting it together. He was no Michael Jordan (who I didn’t like either BLEED ORANGE people), but he spent the first part of his career in MJs shadow, always being compared to the GOAT. I wonder what that might have done to his young psyche. It was shortly after all of the issues from “the Colorado incident” were concluding that he stopped wearing number 8 and started wearing number 24. I could be totally off base, but in my head I though of him as “next” after MJ, 24 to Michael Jordan’s 23. He got his life back together, stories started to come out about his work ethic, his mentoring his teammates, and he started to really be seen as not only a leader in his team, but in national basketball on the whole. His wife filed for divorce in 2010, but the divorce was never finalized, and they publicly reconciled in 2013. He had devastating injuries. He MADE two free throws AFTER is achilles snapped for heaven’s sake (look it up, it’s dumb). When he announced that he would retire at the end of the 2015-2016 season, I was not upset, I was happy (could the Laker’s suck on the scoreboard as much as they did in my heart now, please?). I was glad that a man who spent 20 years doing what he loved, got to get the send off that he deserved. Fans all over the country would get to say goodbye during his farewell tour.
In the years since his retirement, I’ve seen him surprise people on Ellen, make jokes on Fallon, and sit courtside with his daughter, Gigi. Since retiring Kobe added two daughters to his family with Vanessa, one in December of 2016 and one just last year. By all reports, he was enjoying retirement, becoming an amazing father, an advocate for women’s sports, and an all around good guy.
Why am I telling you about all of these things? Well, because I thought about them as I was trying to figure out my grief. And I think I figured it out. I care about Kobe, because he was a real person. Sure, he was some kind of stupid superhero on the court, but he was flawed, he made stupid mistakes, he almost lost the things that matter most. But, like all of us, he grew up, and in my case, he grew up at the same time I was growing up. He made amends, with his wife, with his coaches, with his teammates, with his fans, with himself.
It was a normal Sunday morning for him last week too. He regularly commuted by helicopter, it was nothing special. He probably fussed at Gigi to hurry so they weren’t late, just like I fuss at my kids when I’m trying to get out of the door. He probably kissed his wife in that quick way that we do when we know we are going to see our loved ones in a couple of hours, not like you would if you knew it was the last time. Maybe his other daughters got hugs and kisses and maybe he didn’t even bother since it was Sunday morning and they were probably sleeping in. I wonder if he knew for the 80ish seconds that the helicopter was quickly losing altitude that those were his last few seconds. I think of the helplessness he must have felt, that he couldn’t save Gigi, or himself, or anyone else on that helicopter.
Why do I, a SUNS fan, who literally hates all things Lakers (except that minute Nash played for them, because I just love Steve Nash) care so much about Kobe’s passing? Because, in some ways, Kobe and I are alike. Flawed human beings, who have made mistakes and amends. Parents, who love our children, completely and unconditionally. And ultimately, I’m a normal person, who doesn’t tell people how much I love them enough, because I think I have all of the time in the world…just like we all think we do, but the truth is, we don’t. So, tell your people how you feel, do good things, take advantage of the time you have to make a difference, because none of us knows how long we have, not even the superheroes.