After a few days of reflecting over the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 others this past weekend, I felt compelled to share my thoughts as to why Kobe’s death had such a huge global impact on society. I came to the conclusion that in many ways it had to do with an old Jewish lesson of how to live a successful and happy life.
Although Kobe Bryant grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia and even once was quoted as saying “I wouldn’t mind being Jewish. I wouldn’t mind. Really.”, I tend to think that the philosophy he had that made his presence so powerful and his life so appealing was likely more a product of a good upbringing and life’s experiences. Ultimately I believe that what drew people to Kobe more than anything was the fact that he appeared to be a truly happy man.
The blemish, for lack of a better word, in the Kobe story deals with the Colorado rape accusation. I generally have little tolerance and no respect for celebrities involved in situations where they hurt others, particularly when they chalk it up to a “mistake”. They get on the airways or social media and often even go as far as portraying themselves as a victim, in many instances displaying behavior showing that rather than being a mistake, what they did was indicative of their character. In the case of Kobe Bryant, it truly appears as though at worst he did make a terrible mistake and did a terrible thing, at best there are aspects of this story we may never know and tell at least a somewhat different and significantly less incriminating story. I do not say this to challenge the woman in Colorado’s claims. I say this because in every thing he has appeared to do since that time, Kobe Bryant was not only a model citizen, but everywhere you turn you see a man who not only treated women well, he advanced their causes. Whether it was reporters, friends, athletes or celebrities, every single woman who has spoken of him since his death has done so in loving admiration, respect and gratitude. So Kobe was either never that bad, or his growth from a true mistake was significant and profound.
The most powerful images of Kobe were with his family. This was clearly a man who was surrounded by a wife and daughters whose lives were wonderful, to no small part because of what he gave them. And in every single photograph you see with his family, you see a truly happy man. This was a man who adored his family, valued them in a way you would hope everyone would, and always seemed to want for nothing more, while always working to accomplish more.
It is my belief in seeing these images and learning more about this man that the old Jewish teaching Kobe lived by was the teaching that is the foundation of a happy life. It comes from Ethics of our Fathers and states, “Who is Rich? Those who are happy with their portion”. In Kobe Bryant you clearly saw a man who was grateful for everything he had, from the time he had less to the time he had more. This man appeared to always be happy with his portion in a manner that so many fail to reach.
Those close to him are devastated because they lost him and his beautiful 13 year old daughter from their lives. Basketball fans are saddened by the loss of an all time great and wonderful global ambassador of the game. And everyone with any degree of compassion knows how tragic the helicopter accident was that took the lives of Kobe, his daughter and 7 other people. But what I believe is the reason this has had such an impact on the world is that because of the aura of happiness that appeared to be all around Kobe Bryant, people who struggle to be happy felt a sense of hope. He was a tremendously gifted and talented man, but the center of his happiness seemed to revolve around those he loved, and the commitment to excellence that was manifested in hard work and determination. Things that are more attainable to the every day person than the ability to play basketball. And his death, as tragic as it was, happened in the pursuit of something pure, something that reflected positive values. In seeing the pictures of him with his daughter Gianna, I can’t help but think that the 2 of them died in the company of their best friend, each other.
I would offer this lesson to be learned from this tragedy. Rather than asking why, make your pursuits the reason why. Look at a man who improved himself constantly, strengthened his character and values, and was truly happy with his portion. Try to emulate those positive attributes. Become a better person, a happier person. Become someone who, if you are not already, is happy with their portion. Do this and hope does not ever have to die with the loss of someone you idolize or even when in your life it is the loss of someone you love.
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