Several of my group chats have spent much of the last day discussing Kobe Bryant. Business as usual, essentially. Except this is unusual. We aren’t arguing, we aren’t debating—we’re coping.
Like so many others yesterday, I sat blank and motionless in my living room, trying to process the words on my phone screen: “Kobe Bryant dies..”
There are combinations of words you never expect to see in life. And as yesterday developed and concluded, I found myself dissecting why this tragedy was so uniquely unfathomable. The death of Kobe Bryant, for an entire generation, is not registering. We thought he was infinite, in the sense that he wasn’t like us, he wasn’t human; rather, an institution that would always be here, like Disneyland or something.
For perspective, much of my generation wasn’t alive for the “Bad” or “Off the Wall” eras. Unfortunately, the Michael Jackson we knew during our childhoods was tangled in scandal and controversy. So when the news of his death broke, we were able to make some sense of it. But this, this is unbecoming. We grew up with Kobe, he was literal magic. The peak of his talent brought about the same astonishment as Batman and Superman.
It isn’t lost on me that a part of Kobe’s legend was that he was often heroic even in defeat. In 2013, when he tore his Achilles, the world watched in awe as he hobbled to the free throw line, drained two shots, and then walked off–mostly unassisted. It was unbelievable–but at its essence, it was Kobe.
In that moment, the fairytale would have ended for so many others, but not for Kobe. Adding to his legend, he worked his way back and allowed fans and admirers, all over the world, to shower him with proper praises throughout the 2015-16 NBA season—and we all remember how the story closed.
We remember exactly where we were on that late night in April 2016, leaping off the sofas in our living rooms, and slapping countertops in our kitchens. In his final game, Kobe was tapping into his infamous “Mamba Mentality” one last time. The visuals of those closing moments are forever etched into my mind. We were all Jack. We were all Snoop. We were all Kanye and Jay-Z. And for an even briefer moment, we were all.. Gianna.
Kobe scored 60 points in his final NBA game, and by all accounts, rode off into the sunset of retirement: having two more daughters, championing women’s sports, and winning an Academy Award.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to end at all. Kobe Bryant was a giant, both figurative and literally. He was global. He was everything you don’t expect a human being to be, which is the entire point: he was Kobe.
Kobe Bryant made adoring your dreams, but more importantly realizing your potential (and tapping into it) feel good. And when we latched on to him, at different points of our lives, it was initially because of basketball—we never expected to come across a hero.