I first learned the news via a text from my brother. I had just finished a 3 mile run and it was the first thing I read on my phone. At first, I did not believe it. I googled it. It was true. I sat down on the pavement, shocked. I did not know what else to do.
People talk about always remembering where they were when xyz happened. I never really understood that before, but I think this might have been one of those moments. Disbelief, shock, and sadness were felt all over the world yesterday by tens if not hundreds of millions of people I imagine. I cannot imagine the pain and devastation of those who actually knew Kobe, his daughter Gigi, or any of the other seven people who tragically died in yesterday’s horrible and sickening accident. My sincere condolences to all of them, and to anyone else who is grieving today.
After the news, I spent several hours watching ESPN and thumbing through Twitter to see the outpouring of emotions from people all over the world — athletes, fans, presidents, friends, anyone, and, seemingly, everyone. More than ever, I appreciated Twitter as a medium on which the world could grieve together, where people who knew him best could share stories of what made him best.
I tried to figure out why it was hitting me so hard and how I could react to the death of someone I never met with such shock and sadness. For the most part, I think it was a combination of two things.
First, he was THE basketball player of my childhood. People argue frequently about who is the goat (greatest of all time). The debate usually is focused on Michael Jordan and LeBron, but forgetting all-time for a moment, from 2000 to 2010, from when I was 6 to 16 years old, it was all Kobe. For that decade, Kobe was the goat. His individual accolades only began with the fact that he was an All-Star all of those years, won an MVP, and two Finals MVPs. His teams won 5 championships in those 11 years. Kobe was a champion, a winner, an icon, and an idol.
Second, it was not what Kobe did but how he did it that was most inspiring. There were countless examples because it was the way he lived every day. Not flinching at Matt Barnes’ pump fake at his head. Shooting the free throws after rupturing his achilles. Scoring 60 points in his final game. The stories of his work ethic. The things he would say to younger players. Kobe had a swagger about him that came naturally from his supreme confidence that was earned through relentless drive, discipline and hard work, the “Mamba Mentality” to get better every day at the game that he loved and the thing that he was most obsessed with for most of his life. His attitude was not just what made him great as a player. It was what made him so successful as a person, and such a compelling inspiration to the world. We saw what he did on the court throughout his nearly unparalleled career, but what saddens me most is what yesterday’s tragedy robbed us of in terms of how much more he had left to offer the world, as demonstrated by the things he continued to do day in and day out.
As far as I can tell, Kobe was on a mission to share wisdom with people in a way that would make the world a better place. He wanted to continue to inspire people. After he retired, he wrote books and produced a podcast series for kids. He mentored young players (both male and female) in a self-described effort to help move the game forward. That is part of why his final tweet congratulating LeBron on passing his third place spot on the all time scoring list is so difficult to read today.
Thinking about how I want to remember Kobe, and how I want to make my small individual contribution to carrying on his legacy, two things came to mind. First, I will strive to be a little more like Kobe. Second, I will help spread his wise words which serve as guides for how to do that, both through his own words and through my interpretations of them.
On that first point, this morning I ran 8 miles out of respect for Kobe because, as many of you know, that was one of his jersey numbers (his other number was 24 and I have not run more than 3 miles in one go in a couple of months so 8 was plenty challenging for me). I realized on my run that Kobe’s numbers 24/8 seemed to describe his work ethic. It was as if he could somehow work a day more every week than everyone else could have done working 24/7. I also learned today that he chose the number 24 in large part as a reminder to take things one day at a time, and somewhat eerily, “to live every day as if it was my last”. I listened to an awesome podcast with Kobe for the first half of my run and part of a second one (where the above quote about his number came from) until the last mile of my run when I took my headphones out just to focus on the running. I pushed myself hard on pace for short stretches of that last mile and when I was about a quarter mile from the finish a woman slowed her car and rolled her window down to ask me if I was okay. She said she had seen me earlier and that I did not look okay. At this point I was not pushing so hard and I was able to laugh and tell her I was good and thank her for checking on me. I was happy to know that I was pushing hard enough to look not okay enough for someone to stop and check on me. That had never happened to me before. I smiled for the rest of the run. Kobe probably got that all the time.
In terms of the second part about spreading Kobe’s message, as with anything, the best time to begin is now. Below are some bits of wisdom I have gained just in the last 24 hours from clips that people have shared of him and the podcasts I listened to this morning.
“I have no fear whatsoever. If I take the last second shot and miss, so what.” (ESPN) Kobe did not fear failure. He embraced opportunity. He shot his shots, including the biggest shots in the biggest games. One of his earliest failures was in Game 5 versus the Jazz in the 1997 Western Conference Semifinals when Kobe shot 4 air-balls in 5 minutes. Those were the biggest shots in the final minutes of his team’s biggest game of the year, and the biggest of his career to that point. He later said that he knew it was not the pressure that got to him but the lack of strength moving from 30 game high school seasons to 80+ game NBA schedules. He took the lesson from that failure that he needed to get stronger and 3 years later his team was winning championships. I believe that failure is a prerequisite for success. If you are not failing, you are not shooting the big shots. I want to shoot like Kobe.
“Do not negotiate with yourself.” (1st podcast) Kobe said that when you tell yourself you are going to do something, you are signing a contract with yourself. You cannot negotiate after that. The contract is signed. You have to go do it. I too believe in doing what you say you are going to do, what you set out to do. I find myself negotiating with myself all the time but I will remember more often now not to.
“I expected to win 8.” (1st podcast) Kobe was talking about his expectations for the number of championships he would win. He expected to win 8 but instead he won 5. He failed to meet his own expectations but he exceeded everyone else’s with the 5 championships that helped make him an unequivocal success and one of the greatest basketball players of all time. I think eventually he probably came to view it all as a success as well, but the point is that sometimes success comes in the form of failing to meet one’s high expectations for oneself while still coming close. The expectations need to be incredibly high if one wants to be great. Kobe came into the league as a 17-year-old kid telling people he was going to be the next Michael Jordan. Most people would say that he fell slightly short of that expectation for himself too, but no one would ever dare to call Kobe a failure. Kobe was one of the greatest of all time, I believe, because his expectations were to become the greatest of all time and because he knew the amount of work and dedication that he would have to put in to accomplish that expectation. He wanted to take the biggest shots there were to take. He did not negotiate with himself. He just did what he knew he needed to do every single day. He may have failed, but his coming close won him 5 NBA Championships and global recognition as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Finally, for anyone facing the the question of how to move forward from this and/or future tragedies, we may find the way forward through the wise words of none other than Kobe himself, as copied below:
“Have a good time. Enjoy life. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile, and just keep on rolling.”
Rest in peace to Gigi and the rest of those passengers who are gone now far too soon.
Rest in peace, Kobe. Thank you, and much respect.