One week ago we were stunned by the news that NBA star Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in California. Since then we have seen an outpouring of grief and accolades on a scale rarely seen:

  • Kobe’s death has been mourned by millions around the globe
  • Superstars in all sports have been reduced to tears as they’ve described their loss
  • Some, like Shaquille O’Neal who had years-long tension in his relationship with Kobe, have committed themselves to changing their lives
  • Perhaps all of us have felt some level of stunned grief

Perhaps we’ve also felt a sense of mixed emotions at the adulation Kobe has received. Yes, we know he was a talented basketball player; but we can’t forget the incident in Colorado when he was accused of assaulting a young woman.

As I’ve read blogs and articles, listened to broadcasts and paid attention to my own reactions, I wonder, Why the overwhelming grief, and why mixed emotions? Here are my thoughts:

1. He was a living legend.

For those under age 35, there’s a very strong likelihood that he was the embodiment of a living basketball legend.

  • For those a little older it’s Magic and Larry.
  • For those a little older, it’s MJ and Dr. J.
  • For those a little older still, it was Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson.
  • And for some who can’t remember…it was Jerry West or Bob Cousy.

For a whole current generation, full of energy and dreams, Kobe was a hero in the flesh. (And of course, LeBron James is a part of that conversation, too). That’s one reason the grief has been so enormous. Living legends are supposed to be living.

2. His accomplishments are simply astounding. Kobe was:

  • One of the first to sign a pro contract right out of high school
  • 5 time NBA champ
  • 2 time NBA finals MVP
  • 18 time All-star
  • 4 time All-star game MVP
  • 2 time Olympic gold medalist

The list goes on. Most agree Kobe was absolutely one of the Top 10 most accomplished basketball players ever. It’s quite likely many would agree he’s in the Top 5. The world is grieving the loss of a stunningly accomplished athlete.

3. For many he became a villain. For them Kobe represented all that is wrong with prima-donna athletes who force themselves on others and expect special privileges of exoneration. An honest appraisal of his life requires us to acknowledge that:

  • He was accused of rape by a 19 year-old hotel worker in Eagle, CO
  • She eventually refused to testify and the case was dropped
  • He did however agree to a plea deal in a civil suit, and publicly apologized
  • Many NBA fans, and certainly almost all Denver Nuggets fans, never forgave him. For the remainder of his career, the Denver Pepsi Center was filled with boos and jeers every time Kobe touched the ball.

As a result, for many he remained a permanent, infamous, unforgivable villain.

4. His focus after basketball has without any question been his family, especially his four girls. Whatever one’s opinion of Kobe the opponent, or the abuser, there is no denying he restored his marriage, and along with a supremely forgiving wife, turned much of his attention to his daughters:

  • He started and ran the Mamba Sports Academy to teach girls basketball. He and Gianna had hopes that she might play for U. of Conn some day.
  • He was on a flight to oversee an event at that academy when the helicopter crashed into a hill in the fog.
  • Fathers across the globe have posted on #girldad over 175,000 time to express their respect for Kobe and their commitment to their daughters. The most repeated word: Love
  • As the proud father and father-in-law of two wonderful women and the grandfather of 5 girls I can relate.

Countless athletes, bloggers, broadcasters and journalists have vouched for the visible impact Kobe made on them as they watched his undeniable dedication and love toward his girls.

It makes me wonder, could there be a connection between his shameful disrespect of a young woman in 2003 and his admirable respect for his daughters in 2020? What do you think?

5. Lastly, perhaps the most subtle, but deepest reason for the outpouring of grief and admiration is, his story is like all of ours…just vastly more pronounced and evident. It looks like redemption to me:

  • Like Kobe, we all have God-given, innate talents that we can hardly take credit for. We should gratefully acknowledge, embrace and deploy them.
  • Like him, we have accomplishments for which we are known. Just vastly more unnoticed.
  • Like him, we are engaged in a career, vastly less profitable, that results in provision and impact. Whatever the scale of ours, there is dignity in our work.
  • Like him, every one of us has committed self-serving, other-harming acts of outright sin. Ours have just been vastly less publicized.

Jesus said to pious men who would stone a sinful woman, “Whichever of you is without sin, cast the first stone.” (John 8) They had enough sense to turn around and slink away, or just run. We should have the same reaction whenever we get in a pious, judgmental mood toward others.

Jesus was explicitly clear about how he felt about those who would point out a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, while ignoring the plank in their own. The word he used was “hypocrite.” (Matt. 7)

In the clarifying light of God’s righteousness none of us has the slightest excuse for standing in judgment of others. Especially when it seems evident that the other has experienced a transformative change in their priorities and behavior.

As I watch and read I think these are the reasons behind the almost unparalleled grief we have seen over Kobe’s death:

1. For a whole generation he was a living legend.

2. His accomplishments are simply astounding.

3. For many he became an infamous villain.

4. He directed exceptional love toward the women of his family.

5. His story is wounded just like ours. God redeems broken stories.

One of the most magnificent attributes of God’s nature, as illustrated by Jesus in his description of The Prodigal’s father, is his unlimited capacity to forgive and redeem the worst acts of our lives.

I thank God that he has done that for me. Perhaps he’s done that for you. I just wonder if he did the same for Kobe.

To me, his story looks like redemption.