The news hit California, and the world, like an earthquake. Players and coaches, from Tracy McGrady… to Dwayne Wade… to Shaquille O’Neal… to Doc Rivers and Jerry West… were in tears at the magnitude of such a loss.
Kobe Bryant, the young, bold, confident teenager we watched master his gifts on the basketball court and grow into a loving family man, had died in a helicopter crash. His daughter, Gianna, and seven others died with Kobe while flying to her basketball game at Mamba Academy.
When my wife first told me, my initial reaction was that it was false… someone had either made a mistake or was making a really horrible joke. I searched Google on my phone looking for more information. I kept refreshing, waiting for the moment when a report would announce that it was a mistake, and that Kobe and the other alleged victims were somewhere safe with family or friends. Sadly, that report never came. The reality started to set in that Kobe Bryant, after 5 NBA championships and a legendary basketball career, was gone, along with his 13-year-old daughter and several others whose loved ones would be devastated.
Beyond being stunned, a sudden tragedy like this can trigger many confusing thoughts. Kobe had smoothly transitioned into his post-basketball career and seemed to be on the verge of matching or surpassing his on-the-court success off the court. He appeared to be much more at peace after basketball, and the radiant joy on his face when he was with his daughters was evidence of a man who loved being a father. Such an abrupt end to an incredibly successful and happy life brings to mind the question: Why? Why them? Why so soon? Why did Gianna and her teammates, Alyssa and Payton, have to be on that helicopter and lose their lives before having a chance to really experience life? Why did the lives of parents and coaches, who were spending precious time with their kids, have to come to such a tragic end? Why now, when life was going so well and Kobe was doing so many good things? If Kobe can have so many accomplishments and do so many positive things and then have them all cut short by sudden death, what hope is there for every-day people like us? What’s the point in even trying?
The desire to make sense of it all is a perfectly natural response, especially when tragedy hits someone so beloved and accomplished. Celebrities like Kobe seem larger than life, and we often get the idea that they’re invincible. They become our heroes, and we look to them for inspiration and hope that we, too, can be great. However, events like these are sobering reminders that no matter how successful and popular celebrities are, they are human. If their success is evidence that we too can excel, then any hardship or tragedy they face is a harsh reminder that we also are not immune to such darkness. If it can happen to them, it can happen to us, and that’s what scares us.
So, what’s the point then? If someone like Kobe can scratch and claw his way to the top of his craft, be an amazing father, and be on the verge of becoming a brilliant creator only to have it all abruptly cut short, why even waste time pushing ourselves to be great?
While I don’t have all the answers, what I do know is this: Your life is whatever you make of it. It is not life’s responsibility to give meaning to us, but our responsibility to give meaning to life. Kobe Bryant’s legacy, above all else, is about doing everything within your power to make the most of what you have and enjoy life. Whether it was showing up hours before everyone else to practice and prepare, studying film of the greats, milking M.J. for information, or flying in a private helicopter to save time so he could spend it with family, Kobe Bryant did whatever it took to be his absolute best. Like us, he was not perfect, but he was driven and determined to savor life and make the most of every bit of talent God gave him. He then committed himself to taking what he learned along the way and passing it down to the generations behind him.
No matter what your gifts, aspirations, or background may be, everyone can learn something from Kobe’s approach to life. The “mamba mentality” is about much more than basketball. It’s about having the commitment, discipline, determination, resilience, passion, and creativity to strive for excellence in everything you do. It’s the willingness to do more than others to achieve your goals and be your best. It’s having the creativity to find a way or a solution when there doesn’t appear to be one. It’s getting back up no matter how many times you’ve been knocked down. It’s believing in yourself even when no one else does. More importantly, it’s passing on what you’ve learned so that others can achieve greatness too.
Ultimately, the “mamba mentality” is about making the most out of yourself and your life, no matter how long or short it may be. In the midst of all of his highlights, championships, and achievements, the biggest gift Kobe may have given us is the realization that greatness is not about waiting on life to give us meaning, but doing everything in our power to give meaning to life… while we still have it.
Rest in peace Mamba. You lived the hell out of your 41 years, and it meant the world to us all.
Jonathan Clark is a life coach for adults and youth who specializes in identity, purpose, career planning, and helping people manage themselves better to achieve goals. He is also the author of Quote Quest, a guide to creating a life of purpose, fulfillment, and success. Purchase Quote Quest on Amazon and follow Jonathan on Instagram or Facebook at Cra-Z-Dreams life coaching for more powerful content to improve your life.