January 26, 2020 — I woke to the tragic news that Kobe Bryant, his young daughter Gianna and 7 other people lost their lives. As most Americans headed to church, 9 peopled died in a fiery helicopter crash that ended on a California hillside in the fog of a Sunday morning.
Like many people with an interest in girls basketball and anything connected to Italy (like me), Kobe was a fan favorite—the first of a generation of very young men to leave high school and head directly into the NBA. Can you imagine the insanity of giving a 17-year-old a three-year contract for a cool $3.5 million? That sounds like nothing today, but over the next 17 seasons the Los Angeles Lakers would pay Bryant another $320 million. He ended a 20-year career on top and well loved by LA and the Lakers organization—his one and only team.
But neither money nor fame buys happiness and they come with their own set of challenges, both short and long term. Kobe will certainly be remembered as one of the greatest players in the NBA, but perhaps there is more to learn from the personal aspects of the life of this basketball icon. Kobe played the long game, with both his career and his personal life. He married his wife Vanessa in 2001. But after just two years, a scandal rocked his marriage after he was accused of felony sexual assault in a Colorado hotel room, miles away from his young wife. Dealing with that sort of thing as a young couple can be devastating, but when the entire world is watching the pressure must be unimaginable.
Whether Kobe was guilty or not, he was unlike many top athletes in that he offered what appeared to be an authentic apology. The case was eventually dropped, and he settled with the accuser in a civil suit. The point of this post isn’t “Me Too” based, rather it’s “What Now.” The character of a man can’t be summed up in a single episode. A reputation and a life can be rebuilt with a tremendous amount of work, a massive amount of forgiveness, and healthy boundaries. The Bryants went on to have four daughters and by all accounts Kobe became a solid husband and loving father.
Certainly, no life is perfect, easy, or without issues. Celebrity and an avalanche of money don’t make achieving lasting love any easier. In fact, most would argue it actually makes it that much more difficult.
Recently Bryant was quoted, rather eloquently, about the relationship between him and Vanessa: “That’s all the beauty of it: having the persistence and determination to work through things — very, very tough things — and we’ve been able to do that.”
We do not know the day or the hour. Most of us live as if that day will never come, missing the beauty and value of playing long-ball, what lives on past our own death. What is it that we’ll leave behind? Is it our work, or something more important? I think Kobe realized that for all his fame, those four girls and his marriage were all that really mattered at the end.
I can’t begin to imagine the horror of those final moments. But I know this, Gianna was with her father, the man she admired most in the world, and maybe, in the end, that really is all that matters.