Like many people, I was shocked by the unexpected passing of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant a couple of weeks ago. Kobe was a living legend: five-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, two-time Olympic gold medalist, the list goes on. He was a husband, a proud #GirlDad, fluent in four languages, entrepreneur, and businessman. He also was not without his faults. On the court, Kobe was easily one of the most arrogant men to play the game, and while he backed up his contaminated confidence with wins, sometimes it was a bit much to stomach. He also was accused of sexual assault back in 2003. The case was dropped after his accuser refused to testify and a civil case was settled out of court, but the whole ordeal was costly for Kobe. He lost most of his endorsements, and I’m sure, had to endure the arduous task of rebuilding trust with his wife who stood by his side throughout the entire ordeal. Not too long after, Kobe scored 81 points in one game—and as is an American fashion, he got most of his endorsements back. In the latter half of his NBA career, Kobe seemed to be a changed man. Not just because time had caught up with him in the form of Achilles tears, but there appeared to be a humility that typically accompanies failure. He mentored younger players in the league, not to mention GiGi and her teammates. He was creating businesses and stated he wanted to expand the opinion of basketball beyond that of a sport to a model for the disciplines necessary for life. He modeled this with his #MambaMentality: be passionate, be obsessive, be relentless, be resilient, be fearless.
All of that to say, Kobe Bryant was a layered,
complex human being—just like all of us.
It’s been strange to watch the nation—and arguably the world—grieve his passing. Most of us didn’t know personally, and aside from an NBA game on TV or live, never knew him outside the world of basketball. Over the last few weeks, what has increasingly become clear is that Kobe Bryant is a trigger for people.
For fans, it is a tremendous loss. We have watched Kobe for over 20 years. He was 17 when he entered the league, playing all 20years with the Lakers, and spending the last four in various capacities ranging from sports commentating to commercials and winning an Oscar. Kobe represents the fulfillment of potential. He accomplished a tremendous amount in his 41 years. He is admired, respected, and serves as an incentive to take advantage of the opportunities in front of us. I remember watching all of his NBA Finals games with friends that loved and hated him. Before Steph Curry, I called his three-pointers which he made two feet from the three-point line, “Kobe Range.”
For many survivors of sexual assault (because you are not victims), he represents trauma. In the #MeToo era, Kobe can feel like one of the many who got away. I don’t want to place blame or innocence on the events surrounding his case because a) I wasn’t there, and b) that’s not the point I’m trying to raise. Women are simply not believed in patriarchal societies when it comes to sexual assault. As someone rich and powerful, Kobe represents someone who had access to resources that allowed his life to not be affected long-term by his actions. There have been numerous social media posts made by women triggered by the mention of his name because it reminds them of their trauma, of their abuser’s lives returning to normal without consequence for their actions. Again, not accusing or defending him, but my point is to many abused women, Kobe is a symbol of a larger systemic and unjust system in our society.
For others, there’s confusion around his glorification. I’ve spoken with a few friends this week that just didn’t see what the big deal was. Several people have commented, “People die every day. Move on.” As Kobe remained in the news, coverage also shifted to his daughter, Gianna. It took a few days before we heard reports about the other victims from the helicopter crash and the pain their families are enduring. In some sense, it exposes our idolatry of people. We ascribe a supernatural like status to celebrities and assume that death will respect them by not affording them the pain it pours out without mercy on everyone. Kobe’s passing reminds us all that death is truly impartial. At the same time, it also exposes our inability to grieve adequately in the West. People die in the Western world, we bury them within a week and are back at work. When my stepfather passed away back in 2013, it took two weeks before I even cried. My friend, Jovin, who is originally from Ghana, said something that has stayed with me. “You Americans do not know how to grieve. In Ghana, when someone dies, we grieve for a month, and at the end of that month, we hold a funeral. Then it is actually a celebration of life. You don’t give yourselves space to grieve.” I think people who are confused about our fascination with Kobe’s life and death are right calling for sober judgment, but miss the mark when it comes to recognizing a 41-year old man that had been in the spotlight for 24 years has suddenly vanished for reasons that will remain unclear for the rest of our lives.
Here’s my point:
Kobe Bryant’s death and our responses to it
are more of a reflection on us than it is on him.
For fans and followers, we should practice his #MambaMentality. What goals, plans, and dreams do we have? Are we pursuing them? Are we tackling the roadblocks and obstacles in front of us accomplish our short and long-term goals? Would Kobe pick us as a teammate to help win or demolish us on our respect courts because we haven’t put in the hard work?
For survivors of sexual assault, if Kobe is a visceral trigger, I want to suggest more work is needed in your recovery process. Granted, Kobe is a symbol of assault for some, but he’s only been accused of assaulting one person. Defenders of abuse survivors, it makes complete sense to cite Kobe’s situation as reference for a broader conversation and changes necessary for our society. However, if the mention of his name triggers someone who was assaulted in a manner that is debilitating, then perhaps there is more work to be done. My mentor told me years ago, “If it’s hysterical, it’s historical. If there’s a blowup here, it’s really about something that happened before this.” What happened to you was wrong—without question. Continue on your journey of healing so that nothing and no one can rob you of your joy of life.
For the confused, I think it’s an opportunity to practice humility. It’s ok to grieve with those who grieve and mourn for those who mourn. If Kobe inspired someone but not you, there’s no point in stopping their proverbial emotional funeral because it doesn’t matter to you. True friendship is walking with friends through their highest and lowest moments, simply because we care and we can.
I am grateful for the complex life that was and is Kobe Bryant. I’ve got a few layers in my own life that people will sift through for about 10 minutes after I’ve passed away—prayerfully 124 years from now. Kobe used the time he had left to be a good husband, father, and according to many reports, a Christian. He serves as an inspiration and as a warning—be a good steward of your time and talents, stay out of trouble, and stay faithful. Be the best you can be, and let history makes its judgments.
Grateful for you #24,