How the death of the Black Mamba stirred up moral questions within.Feb 10, 2020
It’s been days and yet I catch myself seeking and searching as I open up my Instagram, it’s the first thing I look for. Wanting more photos and more sentiments, an ache so visceral it invites in waves of nausea. And just when I think I’ve had enough, I can’t help myself and edge further. Tears start to flow down my face before I’ve even had a chance to really understand what this ball of mess is and more importantly, why is it such a trigger.
Restlessly moving around in my bed, I knew that sleep was going to be an issue but if I had to make it through the day, there was no way around it except to try my very best to catch some shuteye. My flight from India had landed at 5 am and I managed to unpack. shower and settle into bed by 8 am. As eager as I was to see my eldest son, I knew he wouldn’t be awake until the afternoon and so this was all perfectly timed.
Well no sooner had I drifted into deep slumber, I first heard his voice as he made his way up the carpeted stairs leading towards my bedroom door. In his typical fashion, my son had his phone on speaker, and I was sure he was listening to some sports news as he usually does, with the usual names of players spewing out of the mouths of broadcasters. Except, this wasn’t the case on this particular morning.
As I oriented myself to my surroundings, preparing myself to slowly get out of bed to greet my son, I heard him speak into his phone and I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. He said “Kobe Bryant just died in a helicopter crash”. And the person on the other end of the speaker responded with “It’s just a hoax. It’s fake news”. And on and on this conversation continued while it took a few seconds longer for my brain to process and catch up….‘cause jet lag.
I jolted out of bed and ran over to the other side of the hallway that separated my room from my son’s. Looking him in the eye, I asked if the reports were accurate with such an exclamation that I surprised myself. He said they were. No sooner were those words out of his mouth, I found myself rushing back to my phone and I typed the words Kobe Bryant into Google.
From that moment on, as everything unfolded, including the death of Kobe’s daughter, Gigi, and seven others’ in the several days to come, I found myself becoming increasingly embedded in grief. Maybe jet lag was to be blamed and it’s possible that my ability to brush off these low vibes was next to impossible in my state of fatigue, I’m not sure. The last time I felt this way was when I heard of the crash involving the Humboldt Broncos and you can read more about my feelings around that traumatic incidence here. I felt the ache back then and I feel it today.
“Why so many feelings? You don’t even know him”. I’ve been challenged on this so many times in the past week and I can’t even tell you how many arguments I’ve had around this with my partner. He’s disappointed in me. He feels that somehow I value Kobe’s life over others just because he’s a celebrity. Some call it idol worshipping and others have been pretty cynical about the entire thing altogether, critiquing the general public and media about the great emphasis that’s been placed on the lost lives of Kobe and Gigi, but not as much on the other seven who were also involved in the fatal helicopter crash of January 2020.
Imaging those last few moments and how that must have felt like for Kobe with his daughter next to him, and not to mention the catastrophic effect of it all on his family, has impacted me deeply. I feel extremely guilty when I say this that while the loss of the other seven are equally important, their deaths have not affected me as much as Kobe’s. I’ve been trying to make sense of this ever since because morally, it just feels wrong.
Finding myself on the defense, I know me. I know I’m not about celebrities-not in the least. In fact, quite the opposite and yet, I had to dig deep for some answers on this. The complexity of human emotions is exactly that-this one is hard to articulate but I think I may have managed to come up with some answers as these thoughts continue to monopolize my mind.
I’m not a huge basketball fan but being a mother of three athletes, let’s just say I don’t have a choice. I ‘m constantly being exposed to world of sports and especially to football, basketball and soccer. So I know a thing or two. But what I know more than anything else is the significant impact sports icons have on my sons. They shape my boys on and off the field.
I can’t even tell you the countless times I’ve searched the NY Giants, Miami Heat, LA Lakers, LeBron James, OBJ (Odell Beckham Junior), Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard, Steph Curry, etc. to find some ounce of goodness that I can then take back and share with the boys in the hopes that they’ll buy into yoga, meditation, service/charity, and working hard so that they can be inspired to ultimately find a path that they love. My boys are more likely to start practices like meditation and yoga if they know that these big time celebrities are doing the same. I’m happy to report that they have! Yoga before football practices was a thing one season!
A humorous mention. Just as recently as two days ago, my middle son – who is obsessed with OBJ- walked up to me in the kitchen while I was cooking to unveil OBJ’s new supplement line, Brand X. You see, I’m health freak and all over natural remedies and products and my son knows this all too well. He knew I’d be impressed by OBJ, a player I normally reprimand given his immature past. My son is forever trying to defend OBJ to me and today, I told him I actually respected OBJ’s new venture to which my son added “Mom. If you got this morning supplement for my that OBJ is taking, I’d totally take it every day!” – says the kid who’s normally super resistant to taking his daily dose of vitamins. Now that’s what I can influence. An instant change in mindset.
All this to say that I pay close attention to who my sons are emulating. I fully expect sports icons to show up and demonstrate behavior of the highest caliber. They aren’t just athletes, they’re role models to very impressionable youths whether they like it or not. It comes with the job description and it holds a lot of power.
While not a family fav, Kobe Bryant’s name has surfaced in our home frequently enough. I’ve heard his name in the middle of our family room as the boys competed with each other in the NBA 2K games. His name has echoed many a times on the basketball courts whether I’ve gone to watch my boys play or in the midst of an NBA game (let’s not even talk about Kobe’s 81 points during one of those games against my home team, the Raptors!). And certainly Kobe’s name has been announced many a times on sports media channels which are forever running in the background in my house.
This is the reality of my world as a mother to these boys and this scene lends itself to the connection I have with Kobe- the kind of connection that would be higher than I’d have with someone who’s story I’ve never known. I call them touch points of connection. The more touch points you have, the deeper the connection. By the very nature of being a public figure, you’ve already established a touch point with that person as unaware of it as you may be.
To add to that, I heard Kobe recently state in an interview that “sports is a metaphor for life…In team sports, if you don’t have empathy and compassion, you can’t win“. He’s already won me over right there. That’s a major touch point of connection in my world. Those are exactly the kinds of messages I want my boys hearing especially from their role models.
On a personal level, I appreciated Kobe for what he represented as a human. If you want to see who he was when he wasn’t on court, watch this very recent podcast episode with Jay Shetty. Kobe’s answers during the rapid fire questioning at the end did me in as a mother, a partner and as a creative.
Jay: “What brings you the most joy right now?”
It wasn’t basketball which tells me that Kobe knows the importance and the value of placing his family before all else (including fame, passion and status) which is pretty much how I lead my life. I’m super clear about my values. Personal development and connection (includes kids, partner, relationships) are my top two.
Jay: “The book that’s had the biggest impact on you”
Kobe: “The Alchemist“.
No way! Would’ve never guessed! Definitely one of my all-time personal favs too!
Jay: “Your one message to all storytellers would be?”
Kobes: “Create from the truth“.
I had so many touch points of connection with Kobe right here- just in this one heart centered interview.
What I’m coming up with so far that all this is not about valuing one human life over another’s but more about relatability and the impact an individual has had – directly or indirectly– on you. How many touch points are there? On how many levels can you relate to Kobe – in my case, as a mother, partner, spectator? How many parallels are there between your life and his? and more importantly, how closely do your values align? (this one is a biggie!) I can already tell you that I highly value the messages Kobe put out into the world.
We all had a sneak peek into Kobe’s life. Such is that price that public figures pay for fame and wealth. It’s clear that Kobe impacted millions clearly in his pursuit to be the best basketball player he could be but also because he dedicated his energy to being a girl dad. In fact, all you have to do is open up social media now and while many posts pay tribute to Kobe- often being called “The Legend”, “The Black Mamba” and “GOAT” in the world of basketball – his role as a father to four girls has been equally recognized if not more. It’s something many of us can relate to and it’s out there for the world to see.
Having said that, Kobe was not spared any personal hardships and challenges but yet, managed to maintain his marriage through it all. He was passionate about cultivating a leadership environment for girls through his Mamba academy and my personal fav, Kobe was a storyteller and a creative (P.S. it didn’t hurt that his favourite book was The Alchemist). Another touch point by the way. In all of this, Kobe seems to have come out ahead in the public display of how the masses feel about him and also, how deeply I feel his absence.
His memories continue. It doesn’t help that almost every media platform makes it impossible to escape this reality unless we shut ourselves out from the outside world entirely. These constant visual and audio reminders of Kobe’s legacy also play a poignant role in keeping him alive even though he’s not.
One more piece:
Here’s a woman who seemingly has it all-a picture-perfect family, a palace of a home, a wardrobe most women would die for, an extravagant lifestyle and travels and more. I can’t imagine losing a partner and the pain that must’ve caused Vanessa but being a mother myself, losing a child in such a traumatic accident while having to care for three others that are completely dependent on you and just as traumatized has made this entire loss that much harder for me to process.
And adding some more context to all this, just imagine how much pressure Vanessa must be experiencing right now as friends, family, media and the public hang onto every word she says as she excruciatingly finds her way back into a new reality.
My heartache is mostly for Vanessa because she is every mother despite her fame and riches.
Layer upon layer of intense sorrow.
I’m starting to put all the pieces together and I’m probably still only skimming the surface at this point. It would’ve been so much easier to let these emotions subside without scrutiny but it felt more compelling to share and explain in the spirit of vulnerability and empathy and mostly, to decipher why we feel what we do. What is public mourning really about? The depth of our emotions are so intricately layered and taking the time to unpack them, if only to shed some light on the subject manner, feels somehow less isolating in my quest to remain ethical and moral but also to stay true to the humanness that is me.
To close this off in Kobe’s own words:
“You can be mentored by people that aren’t alive. Their stories still live and you can still learn from them“.