The Immortal Legacy of Kobe’s Mortality

“So in the words of Kobe Bryant, ‘Mamba out.’ But in the words of us, ‘Not forgotten.’ Live on, brother.”

The crowd in the Staples Center erupted with adulation upon hearing the last words of LeBron James’ speech before Friday’s game against the Trail Blazers. His lone, exalted voice was greeted by the sounds of the many thousands in the stands, and the many millions watching from home. From cries of despair to cheers of joy, every utterance in every register found warmth in each other during ESPN’s powerful REMEMBERING KOBE tribute.

Except for my voice. I couldn’t even whisper.

KOBE BRYANT: 1978-2020.

Never in my two decades of life have I seen a sentence that has disagreed with itself more. I, like most of the world, thought Kobe Bryant was immortal. His confidence and intelligence and charm seemed to be a gift from heavenly bodies operating far beyond our mortal understanding. Witnessing the limitless areas he triumphed in made me believe that King Midas had finally found his successor. Everything Kobe touched turned to gold.

So, when the horrifying reports started to surface  – when we all started realizing that Kobe Bryant might actually…be dead  – the revelation pierced my heart like a bullet made of diamond. I came home, dropped my bag on the floor, and sat on the beat-up brown couch in my living room, stupefied. As I mindlessly scrolled through Twitter, growing increasingly numb to the fractured web of information that was creating a monstrous image so heinous even Dr. Frankenstein would’ve shuddered, I began to cry.

It started out as muffled coughing married with sporadic tears. As time passed, the coughing grew louder and the tears flowed more easily. I thought to myself as I tried, rather stupidly, to fight back more tears, “Why the hell am I crying?”

I didn’t know Kobe. I had never met Kobe. I wasn’t even a Lakers fan. So why was I sitting on this couch, mourning the loss of a man I never knew?

As the days went on, more and more people began to remember Kobe. Kobe the champion. Kobe the soon-to-be Hall of Famer. Kobe the Oscar winner. Kobe the man, the husband, the “Girl Dad.” That’s when the answer to my question revealed itself.

We mourn Kobe because we loved him.

We loved him because he was everything that we weren’t. He was and always will be inexorably linked with the word “winner.” He had sat at life’s casino, flashing that infamous smirk in the face of its dealer, put all his chips in, and won big. And we loved him more because he shared his chips. He shared them with all of us. With every award he won, every speech he gave, every person he helped, Kobe gave a piece of himself to us. Those pieces emanate glory. They emanate grace. Above all else, they emanate success. But not every piece fit the puzzle that he wanted us to see. After his highly publicized sexual assault case that ended in a private settlement and a public apology, we were left with the sobering realization that people can do or be accused of doing bad things and still mean so much to so many. While he went on to champion the world of women’s sports and become one of the most visibly supportive fathers in recent memory, it’s a realization that many of us, including myself, reckon with daily.

But because of all those pieces, we believed that he was untouchable. Kobe Bryant couldn’t and wouldn’t die and, in the ridiculous proposition that his incredible story could have an ending, he would pass in his sleep, surrounded by his daughters, after more than a century of life. We thought that Kobe Bryant was immortal – and we revered him for that.

But he wasn’t. He died, last Sunday. He died at 41. And Gianna, the heir to her father’s basketball throne, died with him.

I have tried to take my own life twice. I have held a belt in my hands, waiting for some sign to make me fasten it around my neck. I have stood on the top floor of a parking deck, staring at the pavement below, waiting for some gust of wind to push me off the ledge. And in those two instances, I hadn’t felt the immediacy and finiteness that death brings like I do now. If Kobe can die, we all can. If Kobe’s time on this world can be cut short so brutally and so suddenly, then the reaper can swing his scythe at anyone. At all of us.

Realizing your own mortality can bring either complete relief or crippling fear. After experiencing quite a bit of the latter over the past few days, the former seems like the only option worth choosing. It’s the option I believe that Kobe chose very early on in his life. While the world believed he couldn’t die, he must’ve known, more than anything, that one day he would.  He lived every day and every moment as if it were his last, which is why he accomplished so much. He knew that ignorance regarding death wouldn’t bring bliss, but a burden that would eventually become too heavy to bear.

For us to live with that burden would be the true tragedy of Kobe’s death. To just exist. To not make the most of every single waking moment. To wait for the things we want. To not love and be loved in return. To be so scared of life’s casino that we don’t even make it to the table. This is something I cannot and will not do. Not anymore.

I now know that the life of Kobe Bryant wasn’t mystical or supernatural. There was no secret to his success. He simply worked as hard as he could to be the best version of himself and he continued to do so until the very end. I’ve made a promise to myself that I would do the same or die trying. It’s a promise I intend to keep. It’s what Kobe would’ve done.  

-Jake Lawler

Alyssa Altobelli |John Altobelli |Keri Altobelli | Gianna Bryant | Kobe Bryant | Payton Chester | Sarah Chester | Christina Mauser | Ara Zobayan

                                                          1.26.2020 | Rest in Paradise