I’d love to get back to work, sit down, envision Kyrie Irving’s future scoring bursts. Maybe discuss Jarrett Allen’s ever-frustrating, yet grossly tangible potential. Perhaps even talk about the importance of this upcoming Brooklyn Nets stretch as it pertains to the postseason. But I can’t. I would love to, but I simply can’t right now.
Like many of you, I’ve been despondent about the passings of Kobe Bryant, GiGi and the seven other passengers from Sunday’s tragic accident. And like many of you, I don’t ever recall feeling this emotionally… defeated by the death of a public figure. It’s felt — and I feel so strange typing this — like a death in the family. I’ve obsessed over Sunday’s events, reading hundreds of articles, watching countless videos, retweeting thousands of posts, listening to so, so many podcasts. Yet here’s the reality: Prior to this week, I had no real connection to Kobe Bryant. Which, and pardon me for saying this, has made this experience all the more stranger.
I fell in love with basketball by watching the sport next to my pops, and given that he’s from Minnesota, we watched a whole lot of Timberwolves basketball (yes, yes, laugh it up). Like many Western Conference fanbases, Kobe Bryant became the bane of our existence. Never once during his 20-year career did I root for him; the guy ended my hopes and dreams with merciless intent.
Kobe strived to become a better basketball player than Mike. He came as close as humanly possible to seeing eye-to-eye with the untouchable Michael Jordan. That isn’t a blemish on Kobe’s resume; Jordan was and still is the greatest to ever lace ‘em up.
How Kobe gained some separation from Mike was after his basketball career. Kobe was, in my eyes, a better family man than Jordan. He was a more reliable, more present, more hands-on role model to young hoopers and his own of kin. He was on his way to becoming the most influential basketball figure of all time, gracing not only the NBA but also the WNBA with his blessings and support. Staring at the road ahead, Kobe Bryant was going to surpass Michael Jordan as the rightful face of basketball.
Even in his final game on aging legs, Kobe Bryant was immaculate, untouchable. Hell, even invincible. And I think that his impenetrability — above all reasons — is why I’ve been so distraught these past 72 hours. Sports are, for better or worse, my way of escape. There is so much wrong, so much to be afraid of in the world right now. The deadly coronavirus is easier to transfer from person-to-person, yet harder to detect than originally expected. The US Embassy in Baghdad was attacked on the same day of Kobe’s passing, and without getting too political, who knows how that’s handled by our current administration. Just this week, yet another mass shooting — a term we’ve become grossly stigmatized to — occurred in South Carolina.
Normally, sports would be my way of removing myself from the cold realities of the world we live in; basketball is MY escape. Yet this week, it wasn’t that way at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. My impenetrable armor was pierced. Kobe Bryant, a seemingly invincible face of basketball, was the cruelest reminder of all — of our mortality, our fragility, and most of all, our inability to recognize when our time may come. We just never know when it’s…. time to go, and that’s fucking scary.
Kobe Bryant was supposed to be at every major NBA ceremony for the next 40 years. His daughter, GiGi, was supposed to continue her ascension into becoming the next great woman’s basketball player. That all was cut short — unfairly soon.
Supposed to… what does that really mean?
For the first time in so very long, I stood helpless, weeping in the corner like a child because of the concept of death. I’m a fairly optimistic person; I rarely think about my expiration date. Yet this week, I feared the reality that we never really know when it’s time to go. These predestined paths we map out in our heads, these lifelong achievements we picture ourselves accomplishing without a shroud of doubt. They are simply that: ideas in our heads.
We all grieve in different ways and express ourselves uniquely. We all felt this loss, the loss of an all-time great, the loss of three innocent lives who never truly experienced the pleasantries in life, the loss of five incredible parents. We all mourned for the fragmented families left barren by Sunday’s events.
There is one thing I keep coming back to: My perception of what it all was supposed to be. Maybe I had it wrong. On Sunday, Kobe Bryant died next to family, holding them close, doing what he loved: parenting while heading to a basketball game.
Whenever my time may come, be it 60 years, 20 years, hell even tomorrow, I hope I can say the same. I hope that — like Kobe, GiGi and the other seven passengers — my passing comes alongside loved ones. And most of all, like Kobe, I hope I’m doing something that I love.