The news of Kobe Bryant’s death flashed early Sunday afternoon and immediately emptied the day. Bryant was a professional basketball superstar among superstars — an inspiration to people of all ages, an ambassador for the game and for his Los Angeles community. But it didn’t necessarily matter how directly acquainted you were with that legacy. You knew from the initial news coverage that he was too young, at 41, for his life to end. You knew he had a family, whose shock and pain you could imagine as if it were your own, a feeling that only intensified when it became known that one of his young daughters was with him when the helicopter crashed.
People die tragically every day, including seven others in that crash, and the pain is felt acutely in their circles. But there is something different about a prominent death — of a Kobe, of a Prince — that pulls a disparate world of people together, to mourn what has been collectively lost and to celebrate what was shared.
Kobe Bryant played for 20 seasons in the NBA, straight from high school in 1996 to his retirement in 2016, and he won five championships with the Lakers. His name is literally synonymous with scoring. People are known to utter “Kobe” when tossing any object into any receptacle.
But not even role models live perfect lives. Bryant’s reputation was marred in 2003 by a sexual assault allegation that ultimately was settled out of court. It’s tempting, at a time like this, to downplay or even omit the negative. But every life remembered is a life from which we learn, and for that we need the full measure.
Above all, news like this is a reminder of how quickly, for any of us, things can change — sometimes because of choices we’ve made. Those of us in a place like Minnesota, specifically, may recall decisions of whether to keep travel plans during poor weather. It was not immediately determined whether thick fog in Southern California caused Sunday’s crash, but the conditions certainly heightened the danger of helicopter flight, a mode of travel Bryant preferred. Bryant coached his 13-year-old daughter Gianna’s basketball club, and they were believed to be en route to one of her games. It was important to go. But worth the risk? Not this time, no.