What I Learned From Kobe Bryant
Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe absolutely love the NFL. They love to argue about every single nuance that the game provides, and by golly, this is their week of weeks to do so. It’s Superbowl week. There are 106 guys are showing up in Miami, Florida to play in a game that they’ve worked their entire lives to get to. Some already have championship rings. They come back every year, to a sport that ultimately might kill them in the long run, to have a chance at playing on this particular weekend.
And damn, Skip and Shannon can’t get enough. For Skip, if you Google, ‘What time does Skip Bayless wake up?’ it will tell you 2 AM. So assuming he’s on PST time, he woke up at 5AM Eastern, ready to put all his musing and arguments together and prep them for a lively, live Miami crowd fixated on both his Cowboy takes, and Shannon’s ability to say SKKEEEYUP like none other.
Boy oh boy. It’s SUPERBOWL WEEK SKEEYUP. At 11:30am TMZ Tweets out that Elton John just bought ‘A Ton’ of Gwenyth Paltrow vagina candles. Everything is right in the world.
At 11:32am, TMZ tweet out that Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash.
And something difficult to describe happened. Everyone was forced to turn inward and not only question if this is even true, but try and figure out what this meant for themselves personally - if it was.
In the midst of trying to determine if this event is true, more news comes out at 12:35pm - Kobe’s 13 year old daughter Gianna was with him, and has also passed.
I tuned in on Monday morning to Undisputed to see what the reactions would be from Shannon and Skip. There, in front of a live studio audience - an audience that only comes around a couple times a year for these guys - at the beginning of Superbowl week - sat Skip, Shannon and Jenny. How you cue up this conversation on Jenny’s part is impossible. What.. “Hi and welcome to Miami it’s Superbowl week, the most important week of the year, but first, Shannon your reaction to one of the top 5 most disheartening moments in American history’? It’s impossible.
People often ask about God in these circumstances. They question the idea that if in fact there is a God, why in his name would something like this occur? He works in mysterious ways - some say. The real answer is that there is absolutely no actual reason why something like this, at the hand of a divine being, makes sense. But then Skip Bayless, of all the people in the world whos hot takes are eviscerated day in and day out by skeptics aplenty, made a very interesting point - one that I’d made to my wife over lunch the day previous.
“I spent the rest of the day, as many of us did, coming to grips with my own mortality, cause if he can go, any of us can go.”
I’m not ashamed to say that Skip Bayless (of all people) inspired me to reflect on one of the most important things I think I’ve ever learned about myself.
Back some years ago, Neil deGrasse Tyson gave an interview with Larry King, in which we got to watch Larry King (cringely) read tweets and questions out to Tyson. In that moment, in 2017, Tyson said, “I fear living a life where I could have accomplished something and I didn’t.” Moreover, he said that in his private records, he has a message to his sister to put the following Horace Mann quote on his tombstone: “Be ashamed to die, until you have scored some victory for humanity.”
To which Larry King (apparently a great interviewer) said “But you don’t fear, or regret, not being around?” What the fuck Larry. (He wanted to talk about inventions.)
But, there it was. This connection - painfully obvious as it should have always been.
I think the biggest reason that Kobe Bryant’s death, and that of his daughter, not to mention the 7 other people on board, resonates with us so much is because few individuals live a life where those that admire them feel that this individual scored a victory for me. I could care less about basketball, and even less about the Lakers. But I feel like Kobe Bryant scored a victory for me.
If I had to reflect, I’d say that there are two pieces that are instilled in me via his example. The first is his relentless dedication, and the second is his apparent willingness to live selflessly. I don’t know Kobe Bryant, but what I do know is that you can’t win an Oscar, for anything, without the willingness to tell meaningful stories, and do that with relentless dedication. The kind of dedication that brings the right people along for the ride. The kind of attitude that lifts people up. With no disrespect, I don’t feel like Michael Jordan ever scored a victory for me. Neither has Lebron. Off the top of my head, Tiger Woods and Tyson Fury are the only other two athletes that really make me feel like “Hey, I can do way better.” One can’t move in his bed, or play with his kids, and rehabs himself back to winning a major championship. One wants to kill himself, end his life, and drink and eat himself to death, only to come back and be heavyweight champion. Both have their demons - big time - and both make me realize that, yah, I could get out of bed 90 minutes earlier every day and jog 5KM and guess what, my life would be better for it.
If he can go, any of us can go. SKEEYUP, I agree. But ‘he’ is no different than anyone else. He’s a person, like you and I. The big difference is, he’s the type of person willing to score as many victories for humanity as possible, before his last day comes. There was a time when victories were championships. Humanity was his teammates and Laker Nation. Now, his teammates are all of us, and he was hell bent on scoring as many victories as possible for the team of “good people”. He had to many more victories to give, and likely one of his biggest victories to offer, Gianna, has been taken along with him.
It’s at this point where I feel that the connection to Dr. Jordan Peterson, for me, comes in. I’m not going to pretend that I can summarize 12 Rules For Life (my favourite book) in a couple sentences, but essentially, life is suffering. Order, is never without a measure of chaos. And within Chaos, there is always the opportunity for order.
Our reality is a thin sheet of soil, organized in an order that can crack and sprout a weed of evil at a moments notice. Left unattended, that weed grows into a gigantic venus fucking fly trap that can consume you and rip you into pieces - an even worse version of chaos with even less opportunity for meaningful order. Even the garden of eden had a bloody snake. Why would God put a snake in the Garden of Eden.
Well here is another one. Setting aside Dr. Peterson’s articulation of christianity breeding the advent of science (i.e. the helicopter), a man like Kobe Bryant being taken from the world is a serpent thrust into our every day ‘order’ which we have to confront. Maybe in this idea, lives part of an answer to the question of “Why would God let this happen?”
So we stand here in this aftermath of a tragic event, and one of the most frustrating parts is that there are no pieces to pick up. Without making an ‘apples to apples’ comparison, (because it’s not), when the Boston Bombing or 911 happens, there are pieces to pick up. There are physical, tangible tasks you can take on to help make order out of the chaos. There are donations you can give. Lives you can save. There are meals you can make for families. There are people you can console. And all of that helps. All of that shows the small victories that humans are ready to achieve for each other on a moments notice. Kobe and his family don’t need our money. There are no pieces to pick up. There is no one that you or I can console - we leave that to the folks that know his wife Vanessa and daughters best. There was no black box, and no sentence said by the pilot that makes us go “Ah”. Yes we make candlelight vigils, probably even statues or what have you but it doesn’t help most of us.
This is a senseless thing. All of the ‘sense’ that you have has been scattered around your bedroom, or your hotel room in Miami if you’re Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe, and the only thing you can do is try to create or make ‘sense’ again.
The other thing is that it’s relatable. Here we have an icon. We all know what we mean when we say Kobe Bryant. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t care as much. Want proof? Name one person on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752. It doesn’t make you a bad person that you can’t. The scale, and ambiguity of that tragedy is so difficult to wrap your head around that pure devastation and heartache is all you can muster. You can’t even begin to imagine the potential that died that day. Only those closest to the victims can. And even then, given all the political hoopla of Iran ‘admitting’ to the shooting down, but unwillingness to allow individuals to investigate - there is still an investigation. There are still pieces to pick up.
I too, fear living a life where I could have accomplished something, and I didn’t. Your friends will tell you that you’ve accomplished plenty, but have you? Also, there is a difference between accomplishing something for yourself, and accomplishing a victory for humanity. There’s also a difference, in my opinion, of accomplishing a victory for humanity that is hollow (though those are still nice), versus one of substance. Volunteering at a shelter to help feed homeless people is nice - but its hollow. Taking an entire youth soccer team to do the same however, instills values and morals in those youth that will last forever. This is a good time to mention that I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, but it feels like one is better than the other.
So where does this leave me? I think it leaves me feeling inspired - oddly enough. It leaves me feeling as though I have something in me to offer the world that can make the world a better place. It makes me feel as though I can create that thing, whatever it may be, from scratch. It makes me feel that when I do, and I look at that creation and say, “This is my victory for humanity.” it will be my version of the Mamba mentality brought to life.
In all likelihood, I’m not going to win an NBA title or a Stanley Cup ring. Verrrrry slim chance there. But I do know that if Kobe Bryant was alive today, and wanted to become President, he probably would. I can put a bit of that energy into myself - right? For a select few people I know, they do this every day. They live a life designed to help people be the best that they can be. Their pride, comes from seeing their work lift the souls of others. These folks are difficult to compare yourself to, but the good news is you don’t have to.
Everyone has their victory, large or small, that they can achieve for this world. Seeing your child share and make another young child smile - you can take pride in knowing you created part of a personality that will make this world a better place. Seeing a friend have the courage to leave a bad relationship, and watching them flourish - you watch them making the world a better place. Giving up your seat on a bus, or helping an elderly lady put luggage in an overhead compartment. Trying your damnedest, no matter the circumstances, to keep your fat, over eating and over drinking butt healthy because you’re one of the few people on this earth that has the opportunity to do so, makes the world a better place.
Recycling. Saying please and thank you. Saying I love you. Being an honest person. Doing something when you say you’re going to do it. These aren’t new things. They’re all ways that you can get your inside story straight, allowing yourself to be the type of person that can create a victory for humanity - that can take that Mamba Mentality, even if it’s just a fraction, to the streets.
Call it Legacy. Call it a victory for humanity. Call it your morality or whatever you like. Call it fear. For me, I call it purpose. I too, fear living a life where I didn’t accomplish something, and I could have.
So with that, I know Skip and Shannon will rededicate themselves to their craft. Their art of bringing joy, and debate and fun to people that deserve it. And while Skip’s takes will continue to be hot, and Shannon will continue to ramble, they’ll do so knowing that they, both, have achieved some victory for humanity in their lives and still have more to offer, along with the pedestal to do it on.
And on Super Bowl Sunday, 106 guys and a whole bunch of coaches, who have worked their whole lives just to get into the league, let alone into its biggest game, will take to the field with ambitions of victory for themselves. But for all of them, the values of hard work, determination, self sacrifice and teamwork will be values that they’ll hope to pass on to a generation.
Win or lose, that’s a victory for humanity.
If it can happen to him, it can happen to me, and it can happen to you.
So, why not get after it?