Death is confounding by nature. It’s random. It’s arbitrary. It often doesn’t make sense. It cares not about the person it comes for.
Kobe Bryant wasn’t just some person, though. He was a superhero. Injuries didn’t affect him like the rest of us mere mortals.
He ruptured his Achilles and still knocked down the two free throws. He dislocated his finger, had it popped back into place on the sideline and finished the game. He tore his labrum and chose to just shoot left-handed.
He was immortal. Or so we all thought.
It was with those stories in mind that I sat at my desk, stunned and staring at my computer Sunday morning. If anyone could walk away from a helicopter crash unscathed, it was Kobe.
But as the wait grew longer and longer, the realization that my desperate dream was turning into a dark reality set in.
That his daughter Gianna, the heir apparent to his Black Mamba throne, was on-board with him quickly turned it all into the worst of nightmares.
Kobe was perfectly imperfect. His flaws were glaring on and off the court. But he was determined to do things his way, and he was so driven, so focused that he reached the highest levels at seemingly whatever he did.
For years in the NBA, he was the guy we all wanted to be. Then, he retired and became what so many of us are. He was a family man, a father, something resembling a regular guy. It’s the cruelest twist of irony that his death came en route to a game of Gianna’s at Mamba Academy. He was an active part of his daughter’s lives.
Those moments spent with Gianna this season, most memorably when they sat courtside to watch the Lakers play the Hawks, are what make Sunday even harder to swallow. He had stepped back into the game because of his daughter’s interest. And fans had embraced Gianna. Videos of her on the court alongside her father had gone viral. She was ready to carry on his legacy.
It’s those pictures of Kobe and Gianna, not just this season but throughout the years, that elicited the strongest emotional reactions from me on Sunday. So many of us can recall our favorite play or game or shot or dunk. We all spent years soaking it in. And he was passing those moments on to her.
Like many of us, he was the reason I am a Laker fan, and why I’m in the position I’m in. He wasn’t responsible for my initial interest in basketball, but he’s the reason I fell so deeply in love with it. He’s the reason I became a journalist. He was a larger than life personality and I wanted to be able to tell the stories of players like him.
But no one was like him. No person outside of my immediate friends and family shaped my life more than Bryant, and I know I’m not alone in saying that. To so many of us, he was as much of a source of inspiration as he was a source of entertainment. Mamba Mentality™ was often joked about, but equally as often used by everyday people like us.
And it’s with all that in mind that I sat stunned, saddened and searching for answers throughout Sunday. The answers never came, but the moments and memories did. The league got it very wrong by playing games on Sunday, but the teams got it very right with their tributes. Bryant’s impact was noticeable everywhere on Sunday, not just in the NBA but globally.
Through the tears, we were able to see the marks he left. We were able to see what he meant to an entire generation of NBA players, one that will carry his legacy on. We were able to see the man, the father, the person he had become. His family needs all the prayers, thoughts and support imaginable right now, but I’m hopeful they can make it out the other side because of what Kobe taught them.
His legacy will live on, through the memories from fans, through the players and through his family.
Death may be confounding. It may be arbitrary. It may be random. But it is not the end.
Thank you Kobe.
Jacob Rude co-hosts “Can You Dig It” on the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed. You can follow him on Twitter @JacobRude, and you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts.