Coaches who once played the game, passing on their wisdom to their kids. Parents who loved the game, taking their kids to and from games, practices, and workouts. Watching your kid reach goals and become great in their own right, sometimes with the added bonus of wearing your old jersey number. These are just a few of the perks that old-athletes-turned- parents/coaches get to experience with their kids when their kids decide to develop their own skills and passion for a sport. That was Kobe Bryant on January 26, 2020.
Considered by many to be one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game, with accomplishments and accolades miles long: five-time NBA champion, two- time NBA finals MVP, entered The League straight out of high school and stayed on the same team for his 20 -year career, and until recently was the third leading scorer in NBA history. A record broken by LeBron James, the day before Kobe died. These are just a few of the long list of records and titles Kobe earned during his phenomenal basketball career. A career many only dream of. One that many work for and never come even close to achieving. He is one of the greatest success stories in the game of basketball and is known to have had one of the most admirable and committed work ethics. Kobe was a basketball legend. But on the day he died, he was a dad, a coach, on his way to his daughter’s basketball game. He was you and me, and any other past athlete turned parent or coach, on our way to support our kids doing what they love. Let that sink in! It could be any of us. Any day. At any time.
Death doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t care if you travel by car or helicopter. It doesn’t care if you were one of the greatest NBA players of all time or your local high school sports superstar. One day you are living life, and the next day you aren’t. Life is a precious, precious gift that can be taken away at any second. Kobe left a legacy. His daughter, Gigi, was on a mission to make her own legacy. A wife, a mother, three sisters, a family, a basketball nation, many friends, aspiring youths, all mourned the loss of Kobe and are left speechless. A devoted role model and encouraging athlete gone too soon.
I would bet that Kobe would tell you that he was in the thick of his “prime.” That even though he had a remarkable NBA career, I would guess that he would tell you that what he was doing now, being a coach and mentor to his daughter, was in his heart a far greater accomplishment than any you will find when you Google his name. And that’s what hurts the most. That’s what makes this the most real. We mourn the loss of celebrities and athletes and public figures all the time and with great sadness. We feel sad for their loved ones and we take a moment to reflect on their greatness. Maybe watch an old movie of theirs, or an interview that they gave not long ago. We may check their social media and see what the last tweet they made was about and we think “wow, how fast can life change?”
Many will remember Kobe in all his basketball greatness. Those big games… scoring 81 points in a game once. His smooth shot, his finesse moves, his purple and gold jerseys adorning the beloved and retired numbers 8 and 24. But I will remember Kobe as the dad in the videos teaching his daughter moves, the father sitting courtside with his daughter breaking down the game with her with big smiles on their faces, the coach on the way to his kid’s AAU game. It’s heartwarming to imagine the pride he must have had for Gigi, watching her develop her game. Its nostalgic to think about the “talks” they must have had about the game of basketball. It’s inspiring to think about the knowledge and wisdom that he had imparted to so many indirectly through his undeniably fierce work ethic and impressive basketball career. But now it was his time to directly impact the lives of aspiring young women basketball players, not the least of which was undoubtedly his biggest fan and most special player, his daughter.
I have always been so thankful to get to watch my children live out their passion for basketball. A passion I also had as a kid. But one that is so much sweeter in the eyes of your child. When I watch one of my kids wear my old jersey number and know that they only wear that number “because mommy did,” it is one of the sweetest gifts of my past coming to visit me in my present. It is a true blessing. I am no Kobe, but I played basketball. I am no Kobe, but I coach my kids. I am no Kobe, but I’ve traveled far and wide for my kids’ basketball games. I am no Kobe, but for a second, if I imagine myself in all of Kobe’s greatness scoring those points, winning those trophies, achieving those titles, then imagine that dad on that helicopter, talking hoops with his daughter and laughing and reveling in the fact that he was on his way to watch his daughter play the game that he himself helped mold into the game that it is today, if I imagine the happiness and pride he had in his heart every time his daughter took the court, for a second, if I’m Kobe, if I’m me, if I’m you, it hurts, its numbing, its gut-wrenching, it takes my breath away. It hits way too close to home.
As I drive to my kids’ school with them this week to coach their school teams, I will drive there with a greater appreciation for life. As I board airplanes with my daughter for her AAU tournaments in a few weeks, I will do so with more gratefulness to God. When I see one of my kids take the court wearing #33, I’ll soak in that moment just a little bit more. When my son and I watch the Mountaineers together and talk about the game, I’ll smile a little bigger. When my daughter and I talk basketball moves and strategies, I’ll remember that it’s just as much a blessing as it is a competition. As I stand on those sidelines, full of fire, competitiveness, passion and a love of the game, and yell out offenses and defenses, I will thank God that he gave me just one more day to do that! Don’t count the days. Make each day count. Thank you, Kobe, for giving us the joy of watching you play basketball. Thank you, Kobe, for showing us that hard work, drive, and determination are what separate us from the rest. Thank you, Kobe, for reminding me that sometimes the things we do the most often, are the very things we take for granted. Thank you, Kobe, for helping me count my blessings today. May you and Gigi Rest In Peace with arms embraced, those big flashy smiles on your faces, and a basketball in hand.