Sometime during the spring of 1993 my dad took our French exchange student, the French exchange student’s girlfriend, and myself to a Bulls vs. Pistons game at the old Chicago Stadium. After a memorable three-hour dive downtown —thirty of which the two love birds “made out” in my dad’s back seat (priceless memory), we witnessed MJ take over the fourth quarter of a game against his nemesis, lead the Bulls back into the game, and eventually win it in Overtime. The day ended with my dad handing our exchange student a signed picture of MJ with a personal note written to him in French from Michael (Thanks to Randy Lemcke and Johnny “Red” Kerr).
That was a DAY!
Fast forward to April 2008 at the Staples Center. The Lakers had traded for Pau Gasol and were relevant for the first time since the Shaq/Kobe breakup. I was sitting in the nose-bleed section with Sarah after convincing her that I needed to see Kobe play at the Staples Center. We were in LA on our “Spring Break” (I was actually trying to be a teacher at that point, and she already was!). The Lakers played the first three quarters like the Bulls had back in ‘93, and then it happened. Kobe channeled his inner MJ, took the game over, and willed the Lakers to victory. It was tenacious, or as the kids say these days, “savage,” and in a sports sense it was even “cold blooded.” Walking back to the Biltmore Hotel I told Sarah that we had just seen the closest resemblance to Michael Jordan as we will ever see (My wife is a saint for dealing with my sports fandom, she could care less about the NBA!).
I was fortunate to see Kobe Bryant play basketball several times in person -- that being the only time in Los Angeles however -- each time being an absolute treat. So, when I heard the news Sunday afternoon I was shocked, sad, and mournful. To be clear, I wasn’t the biggest Kobe Bryant fan in the world. I don’t own any merchandise, shoes, or even have any pictures of him hanging up. I just respected the absolute competitor he was. His example was, and still is, inspiring. And I do not use that word lightly as I can count on ONE hand the number of athletes that have inspired me when seeing them in person (MJ, Tiger, Kobe. In that order).
That’s the background of this post. Now some brief commentary...
Ever since Sunday afternoon there has been a pit in my stomach. While countless unknown people die each day from both preventable, and not preventable, things, there is something unique that happens when a well-known person dies suddenly. In a way, the shared grieving experience brings people together, which is always a weird occurrence in these divided times that we live in.
Kobe Bryant was a husband, father, and forty-one years old. While his life was vastly different than mine, he was, to a certain extent, part of my "sports life" for nearly a quarter-century. He had staying power, and most-likely would have been part of the sports' narrative for decades to come.
What makes his death hard to accept is that he did not die alone. The unrealized potential of ALL the lives in the helicopter is probably what is both most staggering, and sad. In fact, when I have thought this week about the youngest passengers, including Kobe’s daughter, my lip has quivered and I have had to think about something else.
It is just really sad.
Life is this way.
As I have already mentioned, there are people that lose their lives every single day from preventable, even human, mistakes. There are also terrible injustices that still persist in the broken world we live in.
All this is true, yet when someone like Kobe Bryant dies suddenly, we are all reminded that death does not discriminate, and cares little for what your plans are.
I think that is one of the main reasons this stings for many, me included.
There are, however, other reasons I mourn...
Husbands are not supposed to be torn-away from their wives. Yes, there is a lot to the story of that marriage, the one between Kobe and his wife, but why in the name of human decency dissect it now? Kobe’s life was full of ups, downs, and even horrific mistakes.
You know what?
So, is mine.
Dads should also not be torn away from kids. Kids should not lose their life before it begins. Helicopters with seemingly no mechanic problems should fly without crashing...
Yet, sometimes the world does not work the way it was intended to.
Scratch that, most times the world does not work the way it was intended to.
Jesus said that there would be immense trouble in this world. And you know what?
The public nature of his tragedy does make it unique because most of the wrongs of the world go unnoticed in our busy lives. This is both sad, and practical. Sad because the world is, at least for now, really messed up. And practical because we have to live life.
Occasionally, however, something like this slows us down for a moment.
Here are some questions to consider this week:
Maybe we should allow the event to speak to us?
Maybe we should take stock of our own lives?
What needs attention?
Or, who needs attention?
Last Saturday Kobe Bryant flew to and from his daughter’s basketball game. While I don’t know for certain, I would imagine some of the same passengers were in the helicopter Saturday that would tragically be in it on Sunday.
Everything worked flawlessly Saturday.
Then Sunday happened.
We just don't know when our Sunday will come. Neither did they.
I know. This is hard stuff.
And it stinks.
But I have to remind myself that Sunday will someday happen for me too.
I cringe when Christians offer cheap “niceties” in these kinds of situations, so I am not intending to do so and apologize if anything I have written so far does come across that way.
Instead, I am just going to be blunt on my position and encourage you to seek your own.
Jesus plainly said life would be hard. He died because of it, so why do we expect safety? In fact, there are thousands of His followers being persecuted as I write these words.
There is a price to be paid, that is for sure.
My life, on the other hand, is mostly easy street.
At least presently.
Yet, the day will still come.
Cancer, helicopter crash, old-age, it does not matter.
The day will come.
My hope is in the one that conquered death. So, as I process this senseless tragedy, I look to Him, and follow his advice to mourn with those who mourn.
I know this might sound weird because I never met Kobe, or any of the other passengers on that helicopter, but I do mourn for them.
God speed to them all.
The next time someone tries to convince me that something cannot be done, I will think of you and work harder.
I may fail, but like you did...
I am going to take the shot while I still can.