"If you really want to be great at something, you have to truly care about it. You have to obsess over it."
This has been a really tough time for me and so many others. Before I share some words, I just want to say that I am heartbroken for Vanessa and Kobe’s three daughters & Gigi's three sisters: Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. I cannot comprehend the pain, sadness, and grief they and the rest of the Bryant family are feeling, but I and so many others are thinking about them in such an awful time. I also want to remember the other victims and their families -- the Altobelli's, Chesters, Mausers, and Zobayans. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, your race or gender—tragedy can affect anyone and the pain you feel isn’t any easier to take.
Kobe was my idol. Plain and simple. To be honest, no one even came close. My room has always been decorated with Kobe memorabilia. I think the number of hours I’ve spent watching Kobe highlights exceeds the weeks (plural) threshold. And those that know me know that’s not an exaggeration. I have the 8, 24, and 33 jerseys. In my room right now I can count 4 pictures attributed to Kobe. Above my door hangs the “heroes come and go, but legends are forever” saying that defined Kobe. My phone background is from his 81-point game. The rookie card one of my best friends in high school (Alex) gave me sits in the nightstand next to my bed. The “Mamba Mentality” book Kobe recently published that I received for Christmas last year and read in its entirety the night I got it is in my bookshelf.
I think this is the first time I’ve felt a real personal loss due to the death of a non-family member. As everyone’s been describing on social media, it feels surreal. Like it has physically affected them, which I can empathize with. Everyone has a different reason for feeling this way, and mine is crystal clear, because it’s the way I’ve felt about Kobe every day I’ve lived my life since I can remember as a small boy. I imagine people who are religious may feel this way, or others that have idols that are so ingrained in who they are as well. But imagine looking at a person, or a being, and trying to embody them in every facet of the way you live your life. This has nothing to do with basketball—my basketball career ended when I didn’t make the high school freshman team. I feel a personal drive, like a pilot light that never goes out in my inner being that drives me to be the best I can be in every way possible. In my experience, not everybody has that true inner drive that inspires them. Because I don’t think it’s something that can be created internally by the individual person – it comes from your experience with the world and how you are affected and impacted by it.
I can undoubtedly attribute a large portion of my work ethic to what Kobe stood for – success by outworking everyone else. I wasn’t ever the smartest person in the room, nor the biggest or tallest or most talented. But I always sought to be the hardest worker. In my early days of childhood, this manifested itself through actual time spent working. As I’ve grown up, and thought more carefully about what Kobe’s likeness and mantra meant to me in terms of working hard, it has now become a narrative of working efficiently, effectively, precisely, and carefully. It’s about controlling and mastering all of the necessary elements that go into working hard and delivering the best product you can – developing the right relationships, building teams to boost your shortcomings, asking questions to those that know more about something than you with genuine curiosity and a desire to learn. If you’re going to work, work, don’t half-ass it or be in two places at once. If you’re not in a mental or physical place to work, then use that time regenerate efficiently, to “work” in other ways. Go to the gym, spend time with friends, even just zone out. I’ve gotten to a point in my life where it feels like instead of planning the hours or even minutes that go by as to how to live to the fullest, its at the level of seconds. Truly having an understanding of how you want to live your life, and doing it this way is what I’ve learned from Kobe.
It’s also a day like today when I remember all of the explicit and implicit “shade” I would get for voicing how important Kobe was to me as a person and role model. I would shamelessly put Kobe as my role model on applications, essays for school, even my National Science Foundation personal statement for a grant I applied for at the beginning of graduate school. It wasn’t always the “safe” choice, but it was a genuine one. Kobe wasn’t a perfect human being, or the prototypical role model like Barack Obama or Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa. He was an athlete – that came across as superficial. He was accused of sexual assault, and was labeled as someone that didn’t have respect for women. He called a referee a gay slur. But guess what – we’re all people, and we all make mistakes. It’s about how we represent ourselves in light of those mistakes, how we aim and strive to be better. What better model for being a human than someone who has messed up, lived with the consequences, and then stared at them head on to become a better person? Kobe exemplified this in the best way possible. I’m not here to defend him – he’s done that with his actions and the way he’s embraced inspiring others. Go and do the research yourself if you don’t believe me.
I hope that everyone that wasn’t affected by Kobe as much as I was takes a moment to reflect on the outpouring of support and emotion felt by so many across the world. If you’re at all apart of the sports community, you have certainly witnessed it. But I encourage those in the community at large to think about what a role model means. Who kids idolize and why. Who adults look up to (yes, adults need role models too). And why it matters so much that we understand the importance of a role model, and hope for everyone to be able to experience that type of connection with someone or something.
I know I’m still in a state of shock, and probably will be for some time to come. It’s crazy in that talking to others about it, it seems like many underestimated how much he impacted them, surprised at how hard this news was to take, which is something I haven’t witnessed with those close to me before. I’ve been glued to television and social media because each reflection and story has helped me understand Kobe the person that much more, like putting together an infinitely complex puzzle I started as a kid. I will always honor Kobe, because he is now apart of who I am and who I will become. He taught me to dream big, and to strive towards my goals without hesitation or doubt. To do it carefully and methodically, working hard at it and trusting the process along the way. I will miss knowing he’s out there somewhere, working hard, inspiring others to be the best they can be. I will miss seeing his full transition to full-time father/husband/caregiver/basketball coach/writer he began after he retired from professional basketball. It still felt like I had more to learn from him, and that his relationship as my role model had more to give. His image, likeness, heart and drive will live on with the so many he affected. Rest in peace, Kobe. I’ll miss you, and thank you for what you’ve done and will continue to do for my life.