Two phenomenon are on my heart today.
The first is celebrity… I can’t imagine being thrust on a national stage like Kobe Bryant was as an 18 year old. Would you want the world watching your 18-year old self? He was not a perfect human being, making mistakes along the way. We all have. It’s just most of us didn’t have the world watching. Because of basketball, Kobe was one of the most recognizable people not only in the United States, but in the world. He gained recognition as a basketball player and in his later years became a mentor, a creator (winning an Oscar for his storytelling) and by all accounts, a really good father and partner. He left the game better than he found it. He left the world better than he found it.
The second is death…Anytime someone’s life is cut short, it is tragic. Kobe’s life, his 13 year old daughter, the others onboard the helicopter. It is a tragedy. I believe we struggle with death because we don’t think about it until we are forced to deal with it. That’s not the best time to do so. It’s such a mystery to us in terms of why do some get so much more time than others get on this earth. I’ve seen it at countless funerals. The well-meaning words people offer to grieving loved ones that all somehow fall short. We don’t know what to say and we also don’t know what we need to hear.
Yesterday, these two phenomenon came together in the death of Kobe. (Yes, Kobe is on the level of Michael, Shaq, Lebron, and Magic. First name only.) Watching the NBA has always been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I don’t watch for the teams as much as I watch for the players. I loved watching Kobe. Many others did as well. You only need to see the number of people gathered outside Staples Center in LA last night to know that. I remember going to a Hawks/Lakers game in Atlanta where seemingly everyone had on a Kobe jersey, even people cheering for the Hawks. In retirement, he had taken many young players under his wings, including his daughter Gianna. Kobe didn’t just take from the game, he also gave back. The nation grieves his death on a level few people register.
The large majority of us never met Kobe Bryant in person. We don’t know what he’s like on a day-to-day basis. Celebrity is interesting isn’t because we feel like we know people we have never met and often have little in common. Why are they such influencers in our lives? How many kids have worn Kobe’s shoes? How can those we have never met make such an impact on us? And why does one’s death hit us so hard, packing the same gut punch as a member of our own family?
It does. Like death itself, it’s a mystery as to why we feel so connected, yet we do. We will probably never know why connections between celebrity and people become so strong.
In Kobe’s case, perhaps his greatest testimony in life is that we feel just as connected to Kobe the person as we do Kobe the basketball player. We first noticed because of basketball. We grieve because of the person he became, the life he lived. Some might say that is what transcendence is all about.
Well done good and faithful servant.