Ivi Fung

24

Kobe Bryant passed away on Sunday. 

The five-time NBA Champion, MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist, 18-time NBA All-Star, died in a helicopter crash. He was with his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, a blossoming basketball player who was supposed to carry the torch of her father’s legacy. 

I played in a community league called Upwards Basketball as a kid. Every Saturday morning, parents came to support their children violating every code in the rulebook, double-dribbling and traveling on every play, but I took it so seriously. After watching Kobe play all my life, I begged others to trade jerseys with me just so that I could have the iconic 24 on my back. 

Shockingly, I didn’t suddenly improve by wearing his number. If anything, it pissed some parents off that the worst kid on the team, whose sausage-like fingers couldn’t dribble a ball up half-court, was wearing the jersey number of the greatest Laker of all time. But in ignorant bliss of childhood, I ignored that fact. All I knew was that I wanted to be like Kobe so badly that I attempted a turn-around fadeaway with every pass I got. I bit my jersey from time to time. I might’ve even faked a finger injury just to wrap it up in a band-aid. I wanted parents to stare at my frequent airballs with the same admiration I had for Kobe’s consistent swishes. Every fiber in my body wanted to think like him, to be him. For this, I wasn’t the most liked person on my team, but hey, neither was Kobe. 

Just a few days before the accident, LeBron passed Kobe in all-time points scored. Naturally, the media had a field day for this historic moment. With each interview, press conference, and highlight praising LeBron, fans and critics inevitably made numerous comparisons between the two, including myself. Now, I can’t help but feel ashamed of myself for taking Kobe’s life for granted and comparing all-time greats with each other. Just like we wouldn’t see how the Mona Lisa stacks up against Starry Night, we wouldn’t compare two great artists in their craft. We should just take a step back, revel in the inspiration and awe they have painted within us, and appreciate their art before they fade away. As witnesses of Kobe’s legendary career, Kobe’s death should be the last reminder to truly cherish each passing moment.

David Foster Wallace once wrote that “we spectators, who are not divinely gifted as athletes, are the only one to see, articulate, and animate the experience of the gift we are denied. And that those who receive and act out the gift of athletic genius must, perforce, be blind and dumb about it — and not because blindness and dumbness are the price of the gift, but because they are its essence.” And I think that for the vast majority of athletes, this holds true. Athletes and cannot precisely convey to us spectators what it means to be extraordinarily talented. As sports fans, it’s difficult to peer into the minds of a pro without becoming one ourselves–or else we’d all become one, dropping 81 points on a team of huge, grown men. But after these recent events, I can’t help but consider how Kobe’s life offers a pair of lenses to peer into the Truth on how to succeed in a world where we seemingly have no control.  

Many people will tell you that Kobe’s life reflected the essence of hard work. I don’t want to go over how rigorous and hellish his work ethic was because I simply wouldn’t do it justice. But Kobe taught us that succeeding in anything isn’t foreign or unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, but that it is available to everyone as long as they’re willing to focus and persevere. To work hard. Of course, maybe Kobe’s success had to do with his God-given talent, but we shouldn’t overlook his mantra simply because of how broad and unspecific it is. In fact, it is the reason why I admired him so much. Sure, accolades and trophies are cool and all, but anyone who helped me believe that my airballs would soon become swishes, my stumbling feet into calculated footwork, and my weaknesses into strengths through my own sheer willpower deserves my love and appreciation.

From a father; a basketball star; a creator; a legend, to everyone whose lives he inspired, we will carry his torch now.  

Thank you, Kobe.

You were bigger than basketball.

Peter Huh | peter.huh@yale.edu

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My Tribute To Kobe Bryant

The moment I first received news of Kobe Bryant’s death was a moment where the only possible reaction was disbelief. Not the casual disbelief we experience on a daily basis, but a cold shock that left me sure this had to be a mistake. Surely, it was just some random troll on the internet, or a misinformed news report. Surely, the confusion would clear up and life would return to normal. Surely, Kobe Bryant couldn’t be dead.

Of course, he was. Bryant and eight other people were killed when their helicopter went down on January 26th. Just over a day after the initial report, a google search for “nba” yielded 10 “Top Stories,” all of which were in some way about him.  Tributes from teams and players have featured 24 and 8 second violations, the two numbers Bryant wore throughout his career. The internet is filled with touching statements from those who knew him personally. The news of Bryant’s death even overflowed into the world of music, where it dominated the Grammy Awards held later that night.

I never met Kobe. I never saw him live. I didn’t even grow up in Los Angeles or follow the Lakers. I’m a Theatre Studies major from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That isn’t to say Kobe was absent from my field of view. His last championship was the first year I watched the NBA Finals. I alternately rooted for or against him over the years. I was a casual fan. Yet here I am, writing about Kobe as homework and summer applications and the overwhelming pressures of Yale life crash down around my head.

It’s partly the suddenness of his death. I know, rationally, that freak accidents can happen, and it would be nice to think I’m mature enough to be prepared for that possibility. But the truth is I can’t handle the fragility of our mortality. Sure, 75ish-year-old public figures pass away, that’s a natural part of life. It’s part of the process, and I can deal with it. But if a world-class athlete can die at the tender age of 41, then what about my 18-year-old best friend, my 35-year-old mentor, or my 12-year-old brother? They’re not allowed to die yet. Having to deal with the idea that they could every single day would be more than I could bear.

But what’s more important than the shock and abruptness of Kobe’s passing is what he represents to all the different people whose lives he was a part of. I, personally, will always think of his famous “Mamba Mentality,” perhaps unsurprisingly as I am a student at a this famously high-achieving college we all call Yale. As we mourn his passing, I honor him as a model for the dedication and discipline I hope to bring into my own life. This is only the tribute of a casual fan. But it says something about the legacy he left behind that even a casual fan feels the need to pay tribute to Kobe Bryant.

Bradley Nowacek | bradley.nowacek@yale.edu