After the initial shock and disbelief, the news started to sink in. Kobe is gone. I was surprised by how much the news affected me. I'm not a Kobe fan like some of my friends are. I respect his game and achievements, but I'm one of those people who thought he shot too much and passed too little. When the Lakers would battle the Spurs, Duncan and Manu were my guys. So why can't I stop thinking about him?
My first thought when I heard the news was to think of his family. When the news broke that his daughter was on the helicopter with her teammate and everyone else on the flight, it felt much worse. The image of them being scared, holding your kid, and wanting to protect them but being helpless in that situation. Just a gut punch that won't go away. But accidents happen all the time, so why did this one impact me so much more?
Spending the entire day reading and listening to people share what Kobe meant to them, I came across a fascinating story about Kobe. Mike Breen was covering the 2008 Olympics in Bejing. He took a taxi to go talk to some of the Team USA players. His driver was a young Chinese man in his thirties, and he noticed Breen wearing an NBA pullover.
“The taxi driver who couldn't speak very good English turned to me, and he started pointing "NBA, NBA?" and I said, "Yes, NBA." He said, "Kobe Bryant?" and I said, "Kobe Bryant, he's playing for USA." He asked me in bad English, "You know Kobe Bryant??" and when I told him that I knew Kobe Bryant, he pulled the cab over and started sobbing.”
The guy started crying because he met someone who knows Kobe Bryant, and it meant the world to him. That's the power Kobe's life had on people, has on me. He personified everything we all want - a singular love and passion for something. His pursuit of greatness wasn't so he could be great. He was pursuing his maximum, which had no limits - greatness was just a consequence, not the goal.
Kobe wasn't my favorite player on the court, but all these stories made me realize he very well may be my favorite player off the court. Kobe championing women's basketball, his books for kids, the Mamba academy, and all he had planned. Kobe dedicated his life after basketball to use basketball as a tool to inspire and empower those often overlooked, particularly in sports.
That's why my sister texted me the moment she heard the news to check if it was real. The science-fiction loving math engineer who sighs when I put a game on knew this was important. Even she stopped for a moment to process the news. Kobe's basketball career was not the book on him; it was just the first chapter. That's why this loss feels so big. There was so much more to come.