One of the imponderables of life is why some people die while still young or in their prime. It doesn’t seem fair. When older people breathe their last we mourn their passing, but can take comfort in knowing “they lived a good life.” Untimely deaths, however, are hard to reconcile.
When it happens to a famous person, the impact seems somehow magnified. The most recent example was that of Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter, Gianna (Gigi), and seven other people who lacked his claim to fame. Each was grieved by family and friends, but Kobe was an internationally known treasure. He was a stellar, world champion professional basketball player.
And upon retiring from the sport, he had begun the process of refocusing his life to other endeavors, even winning an Academy Award for his animated short-feature film called “Dear Basketball.” That honor, no doubt, in his mind was just the beginning. One of the few superstars instantly identified by his first name, he had many goals and dreams yet to fulfill.
Then in a helicopter crash, Kobe’s “next chapter” came to an abrupt close. His daughter, according to many reports, had the potential to carry on his basketball legacy. That, too, came to an end. Tributes poured in from all points of the globe for the athlete whom some regarded as the greatest of all time. The “Why?” many have asked will never be satisfactorily answered.
But perhaps, even in death, the legendary Kobe can teach us much.
First, a disclaimer: I’m really not an NBA fan; it’s not a sport that has captured my fancy – super-tall, super-talented athletes consumed with throwing oversized balls into hoops suspended 10 feet in the air. But I do admire someone like Kobe who not only fulfills his potential, but also works hard to maximize it.
By all accounts, Kobe’s work ethic was unsurpassed. Despite being the best player on his teams over the years, he was typically the first to arrive for practice and the last to leave. He was driven not just to be great, but to be the best. Some of his most famous quotations reveal his motivations. Here’s a sampling:
"When we are saying this cannot be accomplished, this cannot be done, then we are short-changing ourselves. My brain, it cannot process failure. It will not process failure. Because if I have to sit there and face myself and tell myself, 'You're a failure,' I think that is almost worse than death."
“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – is all an opportunity for me to rise.”
“I can’t relate to lazy people. We don’t speak the same language. I don’t understand you. I don’t want to understand you.”
“From the beginning, I wanted to be the best. I had a constant craving, a yearning, to improve and be the best. I never needed any external forces to motivate me.”
“If you want to be a better player, you have to prepare, prepare, and prepare some more.”
Perspectives like these helped Kobe become the player he was. Many talented people, regardless of their chosen profession, never achieve greatness because they’re not willing to put forth the effort to achieve it.
After his death, a number of articles appeared stating he was a man of faith. No one but God knows a person’s heart for certain, but perhaps faith was a factor in making Kobe the man he became. Because many of the principles he espoused are supported by biblical truth.
For instance, in regard to failure, the Scriptures exhort us to “keep on keepin’ on,” as they say. In 1 Corinthians 15:58, for example, we’re told, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord."
Galatians 6:9 presents a similar exhortation: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” For followers of Christ called to be a part of His global mission, failure is not an option.
Kobe spoke much about determination and hard work, admitting he could not relate to people unwilling to put forth the effort to attain the desired results. We see a similar conviction in the Bible. Writing to believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica, the apostle Paul declared, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat’” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
We see this expressed a bit differently in the Old Testament: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth” (Proverbs 26:15). Another is even more sternly expressed: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).
It would seem, based on his own statements, that Kobe Bryant would be in full agreement with each of these. Hopefully as time passes, he will be remembered not only for statistical accomplishments on the basketball court and memorable performances, but also for the underlying principles that helped him become the incomparable player that he was.