Yesterday morning, Kobe Bryant, a man known for many different reasons worldwide, died. I wrote an initial tribute to him because, while my interest in the NBA has dwindled to nill over the years since Michael Jordan retired, Kobe is still my second favorite player of all time.
I also shared a personal kinship with him because we are the same age, and he declared for the NBA draft the same year I was deciding on a college to play at. Perhaps most personally today, he died a day before my day of birth. I turn 42, a milestone Kobe won’t ever reach now.
One of the reasons Kobe is so well known is because of his indiscretions years ago in which he put himself, his family, and another young woman and her family in serious emotional jeopardy. He embarrassed himself and turned his back on the faith he would come to lean on in his darkest moments.
My faith, the same as Kobe’s, informs me here. I am a believer in forgiveness, redemption, resurrection. I am a believer in Christ’s words, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”
So my purpose here is not to dredge up the past myself. It’s all there if you want to see.
I say all this because I know there are people out there who, especially in this Internet age when everything–no matter when it happens–stays inside the perpetually present moment, will cast those stones at Kobe.
A reader’s profanity-laced comment under my post yesterday showed that reality to me all too clearly. The comment has since been deleted by administrators.
I know there are people out there who sympathize with the young woman and Kobe’s family, and all the damage his actions caused, really, for the rest of their lives.
And trust me, I sympathize with her too. Rest assured, I understand those people that begrudge the glory heaped on Kobe while who knows what psychological struggles the woman is still going through sixteen years later. I sympathize with her, and wish I knew more about her. Maybe I’d write a tribute to her.
Neither do I take lightly the harm I have done to people in the past, whether I did it knowingly or unknowingly. I pray for them every day. I pick up trash from the ground, bring in a basket to the store from the parking lot, just as little ritualistic prayers asking God each time to heal just one piece of pain I have caused some unsuspecting soul in the past.
Kobe once said that one of the most difficult things for a human to do is self-assess. But he did it. And it is a spiritual posture I live every day of my life.
Kobe indeed had to plow through his own self-assessment, the darkest of kinds, in those days and years following 2003.
Terribly ashamed, Kobe admitted immediately to what he had done, with his wife right there by his side at the press conference. He was clearly shaken and penitent.
Another thing he did, which a lot of people might never know, is go straight to a Catholic priest.
“The [loss of the] endorsements were really the least of my concerns,” he said in an interview with GQ in 2015. “Was I afraid of going to jail? Yes. It was twenty-five to life, man. I was terrified. The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.
“It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.”
After Kobe’s death yesterday, a woman posted on social media a story about the day she sat in the same pew as Kobe at a daily Mass, not the Sunday obligation one. If you’re Catholic you know that making a daily Mass takes a special variety of devotion and spiritual awareness.
“He said I have a beautiful voice. I said thank you, and went up to communion.”
Yesterday, on the day of his death, a Father David Barnes confirmed that Kobe had been at Mass in the hours before the tragedy.
“As sad as Kobe’s death is, a friend texted me today to tell me that a friend of hers attends the same Catholic Church as Kobe and saw him this morning at Mass. There can be nothing more consoling to those who mourn than to know that a loved one worshipped God right before his death because worshipping God is what heaven is. Go to Mass. Go to Mass. Go to Mass.”
Now if you are one to hate Catholics for whatever reason too, then these things will not move you. My point, however, is not that Kobe was Catholic, but that he was a man who knew the life of faith and knew the detriments his human shortcomings could cause.
He knew he had to lean on God. He knew where he needed to be on a Sunday morning.
As a friend of mine posted on Facebook: “The only thing I know for sure is that it is possible for really good men to do really stupid, horrific things and in the end get it right. I pray Kobe was such a man.”
This is exactly what I am wanting to say in this second tribute to a man who was clearly complicated and deeply flawed.
But by all accounts, Kobe Bryant was a damn good human being too. I listened to ESPN all afternoon yesterday, to things he would do that many of us out here judging him wouldn’t have the kindness or even the situational awareness to even think of.
Did you know that Kobe would reach out to fellow athletes when they were injured, offering them words of encouragement, even if he didn’t know them?
Did you know that Kobe sent flowers to ESPN personality Michael Wilbon when the latter was put in the hospital (twelve years ago today), where doctors had to perform an angioplasty?
Did you know that Kobe had this message about love and dreams for Special Olympics athletes?
Did you know that he was the greatest player between Jordan and LeBron, and was the single inspiration for so many kids who were able to escape tough childhood environments, and use basketball as an escape from poverty and from being a drain on the system?
Did you know that he has earned the respect of players worldwide because he took the time to know something about their language and how to speak to them during international competition?
Did you know that he largely wanted to stay away from NBA basketball after his retirement, but started attending games only because his daughter GiGi was interested and wanted to learn the game?
Did you know that he and his wife did significant philanthropic work for those less fortunate?
Did you know that since his playing career ended, Bryant has turned to the creative world, from writing a children’s book entitled The Mamba Mentality to creating The Punies podcast, to writing Dear Basketball which won an Oscar, to carrying out other planned projects?
Did you know that he was going into this creative realm because he wanted to help kids believe in not only themselves, but something greater than themselves as well?
Did you know?
Did you know?
Did you know?
I could go on, but the article is long enough already. It would be superfluous to continue. The fact is that Kobe, mistakes and all, tried and usually succeeded at being a decent human being. He was self-aware enough to know his own darkness, and to do as much as he could to run toward the light.
Kobe Bryant, minus the fame and fortune, is so much like all of us. And rather than begrudge and judge him, this day after his death I will choose to do the right thing. I will choose to pray for him, for GiGi, for the others that died in the crash, for all the families that must start the long, difficult road of emotional recovery.
At the very least, it is they who need our thoughtful, generous vibes. Not our hate.
I will think to myself what hell he must have been going through as that chopper went down, having to ask forgiveness for his sins, having to console his screaming child in his arms, having to see in his mind for the last time the wife and children he would never hold again.
I will tell everyone I love as best I can how much they mean to me.
I could be wrong, but that seems like the decent thing to do today.
Writer Jeff LeJeune has an M.A. in English, is a high school and college instructor, and is a former college athlete. In addition to his writing work for The Hayride, he is a ghostwriter, editor, and novelist. His website is www.jefflejeune.net.