by Frank White IV
Kobe Bryant waves goodbye at the final game of his NBA career. (Photo: LA Daily News.)
On April 13, 2016, Kobe Bean Bryant laced up for the final time as a Los Angeles Laker. Naturally, the all-time franchise leading scorer went out in style: scoring an astonishing sixty points for one truly bittersweet finale. NBA fans are accustomed to saying goodbye to the league’s beloved veterans every season, yet it isn’t often that a farewell leaves such an irreplaceable void not only in the game of basketball, but in all of sport around the globe.
Even when our heroes relinquish their spotlight, we find comfort in knowing they will remain a living testament for future generations as they ease into a life of retirement. But on the morning of January 26, 2020, the world was robbed of this privilege in the most shocking fashion. Nine beautiful souls gone too soon. It’s now been nearly a year since this unthinkable accident, yet in a way the process of grief was cut short for many due to the unprecedented plethora of tragedies within the ensuing year.
"Time heals all," reigning NBA champion and Lakers finals MVP, Lebron James said in an interview on Saturday. “And as devastating and as tragic as it was and still is to all of us involved with it, only time. It takes time.” The reality is, those of us who truly understood what Kobe meant to the sports world will never be able to come to terms with his devastating departure. But like all legends, it is our duty as witnesses to greatness to carry the torch of Kobe, his daughter Gianna, and all those eternalized in death. In life, we see our idols as immortal because we simply cannot fathom their passing; yet it is only in death do we truly immortalize the legacy of one life into human history.
In the late Juice WRLD’s uncanny piece “Legends'' he alludes to the axiom ‘all legends die young’. “I usually have an answer to the question, but this time im gon’ be quiet. There's nothing like the feeling of uncertainty, the eeriness of silence. This time, it was so unexpected… All legends fall in the making, yeah, sorry truth.” Although no one can deny Kobe’s story was prematurely concluded, the one silver lining remains the fact that his “legend” as an athlete is forever set in stone. While we will never get to appreciate the later chapters of Kobe’s life, we are privileged to reminisce in the example set in his work ethic, family values, unbelievable basketball aptitude, and forward mindset.
There is no better time to reflect on the beauty of life in its entirety than when in mourning. It is far more than just the consuming sorrow and grief; mourning is an appreciation of life. A time to remind ourselves that the emotions felt in death are equally essential to this miraculous persistence of life. On this day, January 26th, we must remember Kobe Bryant’s legacy, not his leave. The Black Mamba became the legend we revere today because he embodied the impermanence of his time on earth. Everyday Kobe would wake up at 4 AM to be the first one grinding in the gym, and the last one out. He was a man that never wasted a single waking (or sleeping) moment because he truly appreciated the opportunity of the present. Kobe achieved greatness not because he feared missed opportunity or the ephemeral nature of life, but because he simply wanted his life to be the greatest it could possibly be in the time that is given, but never ensured. This is how life should be lived: not in complete resentment towards death, but with an acceptance that empowers us to become the best possible versions of ourselves regardless of our circumstances.
I know I’m likely not the first to encourage these sentiments, but I'm here to unofficially declare January 26 “Mamba Day” in honor of a basketball legend that changed what it meant to internalize the mindset of a competitor. While opponents will argue Kobe’s memory would be better appreciated on a day not marked by tragedy, I argue there is no better day than the anniversary of his story’s untimely conclusion to treasure a legacy uninhibited by doubt, fear, or faltering. It is impossible to know what Kobe Bryant was thinking in the final moments of his life, but one thing is certain: as he embraced his daughter Gianna for the final time as a proud #GirlDad, we find comfort in knowing the remarkable Kobe Bryant would certainly look back on his life with zero regrets.