“Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to go.”
-Jean de La Fontaine
It seems almost everyone on the planet has been touched by the devastating news of the death of Kobe Bryant, his young daughter Gianna and the passengers that accompanied them on their ill-fated Sunday morning helicopter ride earlier this week. The news media is currently dominated by tear-jerking Kobe stories and heartwarming Kobe images. Newspapers, magazines and websites are filled with articles about the late basketball legend, his wife, his parents, and naturally the horrible crash itself. These are accompanied by snapshots of Kobe playing in his Lakers uniform, posing with his family and most poignantly, alongside his beautiful daughter Gianna. Because this disaster was so unexpected, breaking news of the tragedy seemed absolutely surreal- an accident like this surely could not have happened, especially to someone who was larger than life and in possession of super-human talents. No. Not Kobe, and definitely not his smiling, sweet daughter on top of it.
Many of these media stories center on how other people are processing their own shock and grief over the unimaginable loss of all those lives aboard that fateful flight. Several storytellers offered up specific memories they have of Kobe, or anecdotes of a time they were once lucky enough to have had some kind of personal contact with the legendary Laker. He touched the lives of so many people both directly and indirectly, and the world-wide heartbreak and media frenzy over his death is certainly proof that Kobe’s influence spread well beyond his family, his teammates and his friends.
I have a couple of Kobe stories of my own, as years ago when I worked for sports agents I met the fresh-out-of-high-school NBA wunderkind Kobe Bryant before he had even relocated to Los Angeles. Before the world at large knew about who he was and before even Kobe himself knew just how much he would end up bringing to the proverbial table. In those days, he was still just a kid and naïve to the ways in which fame and fortune were about to change his life forever. Finding himself launched into uncharted territory, back then Kobe often did not know what to expect and neither did those close to him. But as he steadily assumed his rightful place on the Laker team and onto the short list of NBA greats, Kobe became familiar with what he could expect from the world around him, and also with what those around him would expect out of him.
Kobe probably never expected to meet the girl who would become his wife before his 21st birthday. And he certainly did not expect that the marriage to the love of his life would cause a still unresolved rift between him and his parents, with whom Kobe had always been very close. Pam and Joe Bryant for sure did not expect that the last time they spoke to their only son, that it would truly be for the very last time. Consequently, a torrent of tweets, posts and messages from broken hearted associates and fans are still being published hourly, asking us all to hug those we love a little tighter, tell them we love them more often, and apologize if the air needs clearing before it’s too late. Unfortunately, it usually takes an event like this one to put the state of our own lives into proper perspective.
Kobe’s untimely death jolts us all back into facing the reality that our relationships and the lives we live are but fragile privileges, living gifts that shouldn’t ever be taken for granted. It brings into sharp focus the fact that at any moment, the people we value most in our lives and our connection to them can unexpectedly disappear. And sadder still, it will be those of us that are left behind who’ll be badly hurting if important relationships were left untended or worse, unmended. So go make your teenager let you kiss her goodnight no matter how much she protests. Tell your husband you really do forgive him for losing your laptop- and then actually finally forgive him for it (harboring feelings about something is not forgiveness). The Bryants will unfortunately not have the luxury of experiencing these simple ways of maintaining a lasting connection with their departed loved ones ever again. But we can learn from this. By trying to expect the unexpected no matter how hard it is, not only will we be closer to finding peaceful hearts we will also help ensure that the legacy of Kobe Bryant continues to live on. And with that in mind, please excuse me while I go call an old friend.
©2020 Lisa Ihnken, all rights reserved; images excepted.