“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.” – Kobe Bryant
Like many others, I woke up to the news that Kobe Bryant had unexpectedly passed away at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash. To make the news even more tragic, his 13-year-old daughter died with him, along with at least seven other people, including another parent and child.
I don’t wish to minimize the deaths of the other passengers. Certainly, they meant the world to their families and loved ones, and we must also consider them as we think of and pray for Kobe and Gigi Bryant and the family they left behind.
Kobe’s death brings a particular sting. I may not have the good fortune of having known or having been known by him personally, but as a basketball fan, he is someone I’ve watched and admired – both on and off the court.
You don’t need me to detail the records he made and broke in his sport. His glories are well-known and will be rightly celebrated as the world processes its loss of an icon. I would, however, like to reflect on one of the lowest points in his public life – not to blacken his memory, but because of what it revealed about his character. It is, after all, when we are down that our true nature reveals itself.
In 2003, a 19-year old hotel worker accused Kobe of sexual assault. He was never criminally tried for it, as his accuser refused to testify in open court, but a civil case was brought against him which was eventually settled privately.
Most men in that situation would have opted to quietly move on, but Kobe took the step of publicly apologizing to the accuser for the incident, and to his wife for his infidelity. He didn’t admit to rape and stood by his belief that what happened between him and his accuser was consensual. He did, however, take the time to listen to her account of the evening, and acknowledged how things may have been different from her perspective, and apologized for having misread the situation.
By all accounts, Kobe and his wife Vanessa reconciled and their family life appeared to have been a generally happy one (though like any marriage with its up and downs), with four beautiful daughters, one of whom was only born in June last year.
I know many people who are too proud to admit their mistakes and apologize, believing that doing so would diminish themselves. Meanwhile, here is a great man, willing to see the perspective of others and acknowledge, apologize, and make amends for his mistakes. This makes him even greater in my eyes. After all, nobody’s perfect. We make mistakes. Sometimes, things don’t turn out the way we expect. Sometimes, we’re knocked down and have to pick ourselves up and start over.
Australia and the Amazon are burning, volcanos around the world – including Taal – are erupting, and we’re on the verge of a novel coronavirus pandemic (not to mention the political unrest in various parts of the globe), and we’ve had at least 3 aircraft crashes. And in lighter news – Harry and Meghan are leaving the Royal Family and JaDine is over. To say that 2020 is off to a bumpy start is the understatement of this new decade.
I don’t know why we seem to lose good people too soon. I don’t know why tragedies happen, but as Kobe said, these challenges are just opportunities for us to rise. He may be gone, but his legacy and the good he’s brought into this world will live on through his family who will be embodiments of his heart, and through every fan that he inspired through his basketball career and through his nascent second acts as a creative storyteller and an advocate for women’s basketball.
These days, we’re oversaturated with “influencers,” many of whom don’t seem to have clear purpose for their existence and influence beyond posting pretty pictures and living the good life or worse – propagating fake news in social media. It almost seems an insult to put such a label on a man who created an indelible impact on billions around the world by showing how far passion and hard work can take you, and by being, on balance, a force for excellence.
But he did influence me, and so many like me. And in sudden passing, he’s making me cast a far more appreciative eye on things that truly matter in my life – family and relationships.
I’m going to hug my daughters just a little bit tighter tonight.
RIP, Kobe. #MambaForever
The author is the vice president and head of corporate affairs & communications of BPI and is concurrently the executive director of BPI Foundation