Yesterday was one of those days where the world seemed to stand still. Tragically, Kobe Bryant and eight others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. They were headed to a basketball game at the Mamba Sports Academy in nearby Thousand Oaks.
I grew up rooting for Kentucky standout Rajon Rondo and the Big 3 Era Boston Celtics, so I was never allowed to be a Kobe fan. I would grit my teeth each time he nailed his signature turn-around jumper, and in 2010, he shattered my innocent 15-year old heart when he forced Game 7 in LA. His Lakers would go on to win the NBA Championship; meanwhile, all I got was lip from my high school friends.
But as Kobe stood triumphantly on the stage that night at the Staples Center, arms outstretched in front of his adoring fans, I’ll never forget how invincible he looked. Legends like Kobe just can’t die… Can they?
It’s those moments that make tragedies like Kobe’s so incredibly difficult to process. I didn’t think it an exaggeration when, upon learning of his death, I confided in my wife that this would be remembered as the darkest day in basketball history. Like Michael Jackson or Princess Diana before him, everyone knew Kobe Bryant. He mattered, and whether you were a fan, a follower, or far from either, he gave you a reason to care. And for a person like me who devotes an absurd amount of time ruminating about the aims and means of education, Kobe exemplified everything that we could ever ask of our kids.
He was a tireless competitor and genius of his trade. Known for his intense workouts, Kobe famously made his high school teammates play one-on-one games to 100. He retired in 2016 as a five-time champion, two-time Finals MVP, and 18-time NBA All-Star, and that’s just basketball.
Kobe was also fluent in Spanish and Italian, and he taught himself to play Beethoven on piano. Once, during a swing of road games along the East Coast, Kobe dropped in on an international marketing class at Boston College just for fun. Everything the man did embodied the curiosity, drive, and commitment to lifelong learning that we want for our kids. Now, with Kobe gone, there’s one fewer star to light the way.
So this week, while students grieve over losing a lifelong hero in their own different ways, I’ll leave these beautiful words hanging outside the door of my classroom. They are Kobe’s own, taken from a poem he wrote in his final season.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.
Here’s to hoping that every child who sets foot in a classroom or on a basketball court this week has that hero out there waiting for them. And if they don’t, here’s to hoping it will be you.