When my son told me Kobe Bryant had died, I fell. Knowing what was coming, I shut myself away from the world. I read no news, about anything, in the week that followed. I still avert my eyes when his name shows up in a headline. I don’t want to know about the family, the burial, the memorials, the homages, the predictable controversies that could only erupt in a world governed execrably by social media. The Snoop Dogg’s and the Gayle King’s, the false and self-inflating claims of ownership and insight, the smackdown from those who demand purity from everyone but themselves. I also eschewed the traditional media, with its talking heads (here’s to you Stephen A. Smith) a-wallowing and a-hollowing, cable chyrons a-thrum, this mining of private grief for public display.
Here’s the deal about Kobe, who’s life and career I’ve tracked, as have so many, for more than two decades, since he entered the NBA as an 18-year old wunderkind, our bridge in this most personally and artistically expressive of all sports, from MJ to LBJ. Kobe was not an easy person to love. He was a selfish player. But you had to take him seriously. His ego was enormous. He was larger than life and so of course he played by his own rules. Because he could. He was an artist, enormously driven, prodigiously gifted. I mean, motherfucker, the dude once scored 81 points in a single game!Kobe fucked up. When people are young, they are impelled by their own impurity. They fuck up. If they don’t, there is something wrong with them. And if they challenge themselves to grow beyond their mistakes, we mostly will forgive them. No one should be defined by a single fall from grace. We all, every one of us, are falling constantly.
So what broke me? I obviously didn’t know Kobe. I was not a Laker’s fan. I was not even, particularly, a fan of his game. But Kobe was always, aspirationally and in reality, far more than a basketball player. That range, that stretch, is what made him interesting and compelling and singular. He was – always – a complex, serious, evolving person. His life was still ahead of him. Basketball was for him merely a moment in time. He promised to become more interesting, more significant in the future than he had been in the past. Basketball gave him the platform, the confidence, the resources. But it was likely just prelude. When he fell from the sky with his daughter, we all fell with him.