By now, the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna, and seven others in the helicopter crash heard round the world in Calabasas, California is dominating the headlines everywhere.
Stunning. Shocking. Devastating. Unbelievable. Unfathomable. Impossible.
Whatever term synonymous with conveying a state of disbelief you choose to use is correct.
But there’s one more emotion I’m feeling today: A tinge of regret.
Why? Let me explain…
I grew up a Chicago Bulls fan. And while that may seem like a purgatory sentence these days, it was all the rage in the 1990s. Unfortunately for me, I don’t remember much of it.
My early childhood spanned the Michael Jordan dynasty. I was two months old when MJ won his first championship. And I was seven years old when he claimed his final title. What does a seven-year old really remember about rooting for a team employing an all-time great basketball player?
Not too much. Hell, most of my memories of him are from highlights, not actual games.
Enter Kobe. His early career overlapped with MJ’s dynasty, and eventually, Kobe’s overall career mirrored MJ’s in so many ways. Their playing styles were almost identical. They were unstoppable on offense. They were outstanding on defense. They found all of their success with one iconic franchise. MJ won six championships; Kobe won five. These dudes were almost carbon copies of each other. I mean…
But of course, for Bulls fans, there’s this inherent need (dare I say, responsibility?) to argue MJ was the greatest to ever play the game. So much so, it gets to a point where other players’ accomplishments are discounted for the sake of argument. I’m guilty of it, too.
But eventually, I wised up to the fact that it doesn’t matter. I realized that I had the opportunity to grow up and live when two of the greatest players, ever, competed against each other. Greatness doesn’t diminish or mean less than other greatness. But I spent too much valuable time trying to find flaws in Kobe’s game, or character, or literally anything else to make some arbitrary, subjective, and, ultimately, pointless “case” for MJ.
And while I got there eventually (thankfully), I spent too little time appreciating Kobe for what he was: A legend in his own, exceptional right.
And now, Kobe is gone, much too soon, as is his eldest daughter. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Bryant and Gianna were heading to one of her basketball games in the helicopter that met its fateful end. And around the same time, Twitter brought this to my attention:
Life is unpredictable. Focus on things that matter. Appreciate what you have, because it can all be taken away in an instant.
I learned that lesson a while ago, and I was reminded of it today. And in the case of the NBA, MJ? Kobe? LeBron? Who gives a f***. Just enjoy watching greatness, before it’s gone.
Rest in peace, Mamba.