On Jan. 26, while eating out with some friends at one of my favorite barbecue restaurants, I received a message around 2:30 p.m. that shook everyone at the table.
Los Angeles Lakers legend, Kobe Bryant, died in a horrific helicopter crash.
Initially, I thought it was some horrible social media hoax. I soon realized this was no prank. I became confused and disoriented. I was just getting to understand who he truly was.
Truthfully, I grew up admiring Lebron James, not Kobe. But Kobe’s large, lustrous light often outshined Lebron’s. Kobe always seemed to steal the attention whenever they played against each other.
I wasn’t in awe when he’d shoot his legendary turnaround fadeaway to hit a game-winning buzzer-beater. I couldn’t stand it. To praise another player felt treacherous, like betrayal in its highest form.
I now realize I robbed myself of the opportunity to appreciate one of the greatest virtuosos in the NBA’s history. It’s something I regret today, and I probably always will.
There were a few times I’ve cried for someone I didn’t know personally, but if you ever watched Kobe play, or ever heard him speak, he wasn’t a stranger to you. His actions and speech were full of truth — whether I liked him, loved him or was indifferent toward him, I always respected that.
I remember Kobe once said, “Leave everything on the court. Leave the game better than you found it. And when it comes time for you to leave, leave a legend.”
That’s how he approached everything he did. Although basketball was what made him famous, it wasn’t everything he was. He wore many different hats. He was a life coach, an author, a director, a publisher, a husband, but more importantly, he was a “girl dad” to his “Mambacita,” Gianna.
As I’ve begun learning how to raise a girl, my niece, I loved his deliberate approach to not only empower his four daughters, but to tell the world they were more than capable to carry out his legacy.
He was a man of inspiring candor who lived by his Mamba Mentality, which he defined as “a constant quest to try to better than you were yesterday.” When he demanded that you “try to be the best version of yourself” I accepted that challenge.
Kobe mastered his body and mind in a way few athletes could. It’s hard to convince me he couldn’t master his own fate.
Most days I trick myself into believing I’m in control of my fate. I tell myself that if I live my life genuinely, if I’m kind to the people I meet, if I help those in need, surely, that will buy me the time needed to live a long, prosperous life.
Then, tragedies like this occur, and I’m gripped with immense fear and sorrow. I’m left to question if anything in life actually matters. Most people are dying to live, yet we live every day just to die.
Accepting death is undoubtedly one of my biggest challenges. In the past, I tried to suppress my feelings toward it, which allowed me to cope with the raw fact that death is an appointment that cannot be canceled. Each year it becomes the daunting reality I live in.
It’s no different than what I felt after rapper Nipsey Hussle was killed in 2019. I felt it after the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, I felt it after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and I feel it every time an unarmed Black man is gunned down by a police officer. In an instant I’m reminded that death is not a matter of living “right,” and although being a well-rounded individual is important, at the end of the day, it’s out of our control.
I ask myself: “If that could happen to him, the way that it did, then what hope does that leave me?”
Kobe’s death forces me to face my own mortality, but it helps me find solace in my fear. Through him, I learned there’s beauty in the process. As long as I’m diligent, and relentless in my pursuit to be the best, I can accept whatever comes — even if that means death.
Long live Mamba and Mambacita.