The death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and their friends was a tragedy in every sense of the word. It was a gut-wrenching, cling-to-your-loved ones story. The pain and heartache his wife and other daughters are now living with is enough to make anyone pause and pray. He died still with much life to live, a marriage still with dreams and with daughters still to raise. There is nothing other to feel, on personal level, than deep sadness and respect.
This has been the general reaction to the death. It has united the world in reactions of respect and condolences. Across the world at the Australian Open were tributes by Americans and international athletes alike.
Within the sporting community, Bryant seems to have touched every life. The grief of fellow NBA players, current and former and the media that covered him was genuine and raw. There have been various tributes to him since his passing. But within Los Angeles the pain has been more. He was the biggest name in the brightest city. The crowds around the Staple Center caused pause for all those that watched it.
There was an overwhelming outpouring of love and seeming unity in a divided country. But it was Mark Cuban’s announcement that no Dallas Maverick would ever wear #24 again that jolted me into this article. For beneath it all there is a pit in my stomach that makes me slightly uncomfortable.
For if we are one thing as a country, it is a people that overreact. We are united in our ability to jump to conclusions. It is seen as weakness or callousness to take a step back or a moment to think. Whether its the political battles that rage the moment a highly publicized shooting occurs or a “perfect phone call”. Bryant’s death has led to some heartwarming and encouraging reactions. But it has also jumped far outside Bryant’s deserving place of honor. And retiring his numbers from other teams seems exactly that.
Kobe Bryant was known on the court for what was dubbed “Mamba Mentality”. And as this mentality is honored after his death I am upset by it. Perhaps, like other things, Mamba Mentality will be recast as something different. But Mamba Mentality as it was created to describe Kobe Bryant on the court was not something to praise. Bryant was a selfish person on the court. He was a terrible teammate and uncoachable. Are these the attributes in sports we want our young athletes striving for? Is this what we want written upon their shoes and hearts as they go out to play? To think only of yourself, to drive to the basket without the need of teammates or coaches? That you alone are good enough to do it all?
#GirlDad was trending as past interviews of his love of his girls. All around social media we saw athletes posting their pictures of their daughters. Which was adorable and encouraging.
But it makes me a little sick that a man who ruined a girls (remember she was 19) life is so praised. I hope and believe that he looks back on that time with shame. Though he has never publicly discussed this incident. But is this really the type of person we want to worship? Is this the type of man who all of the basketball world should change to accommodate?
There is of course the reason Bryant had two numbers though he played his entire career for the Los Angeles Lakers. Coming out of high school, Bryant was #8 for the Lakers. He won a Championship with them and then was accused of raping and 19-year-old girl at a hotel. She brought Bryant to trial and it got messy. Eventually the charges were dropped because the girl would not testify. Bryant’s lawyers had gone after her in the courtroom and in the sphere of public opinion. Eventually they settled out of court. He returned to the Lakers to an enormous contract and a new number #24. But a life was ruined in the process.
From all evidence it seems Bryant changed his life after that. He found religion with reports that he became a devoted Catholic. As a fellow Christian this makes me the most happy. For in our faith we believe the death of Jesus was enough to cover all the sins of mankind. From the evidence he became a devoted husband to his wife Vanessa who has been at his side since high school. Together they had 4 beautiful girls, the youngest being 8 months old. He seems to have changed his whole life around to be the kind of man those girls deserved. Which we celebrate with all.
The two greatest wrongs that are committed against another man are murder and rape. Yet we are so quick to brush them aside if they play for our team (looking at you Baltimore Raven’s fans and Ray Lewis). We tend to forgive those who play for our team or we like. We even reward them after they come back. We don’t require apology or proof of a change of heart. We forgive if they win. We forget if they give us greatness on the field of play.
His death is truly a tragedy. And my heart aches for all those that knew him personally and grieve. For all those that cheered for him or idolized him and find him gone. But as I watch answers to questions in other spheres come to me.
A common question in politics right now is how can Trump supports, who are usually Christian in background, rally around such and un-Christian man. A man accused of chronic infidelity. A man who makes a mockery of a good life. Yet in this Kobe Bryant death I see why. If he plays for your team we forget the bad parts. If he wins for us, we forgive.
Even so, I am uncomfortable with the idolization of such a man. Nobody is perfect, but men like Jackie Robinson and Walter Peyton were men to be admired, to point to our children and say, be like that. These are the type of men who we retire jersey’s for across all teams. These are the men we put badges upon our jersey’s proudly. I will never tell my children to be like Kobe Bryant, not on the court nor in his much more checkered past. And I wish we as a nation and as sports fans would deal with him much more broadly. Of course now it is all pain and raw. Which is understandable. But let us not make changes so drastic now that we cheapen the Robinson’s and Peyton’s of our history. We can grieve with a wife and mother who lost so much, without forgetting perspective completely.
I wrote extensively on Bryant and other public figures in sports during the height of the #MeToo movement that you can read about here.