Saturday, Jan. 25 was Chinese New Year. The Year of the Rat — or “The Year of our Freeloading Roommates” as my Washingtonian housemates quip — is now upon us, and it supposedly brings good tidings and new beginnings.
Sunday, Jan. 26 was the Chinese New Year Parade in Washington, D.C., a richly vibrant and joyful celebration of this new chapter of life. It was beautiful, an immortalized snapshot of the incredible diversity, culture and tradition that exist within D.C. — community voices brightly issued well wishes to parade goers, colorful dragon costumes came to life against the backdrop of thunderous drums and colorfully-extravagant firecrackers vanquished the depressingly-overcast sky. For a brief moment, everything was just right with the world.
And then it wasn’t.
As fate would have it, it was also the day that a helicopter crash tragically claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others (Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alyssa Altobelli, Ara Zobayan); the day that the world held one giant collective breath and desperately clung to it, searched for meaning in it, begged for a reason for it.
I remember when and where I was when Michael Jackson’s death was reported, but I don’t remember how I felt. My parents do, though. To them, Michael Jackson was American culture: king of pop music, breaker of racial barriers and all — and his sudden death was an enormous shock and a blow to the very fabric of this country. I understand that now with Kobe Bryant, and I hate that I do.
Kobe Bryant seems larger than life. Seemed larger than life — not going to get used to that past tense any time soon. He appeared a superhero, in the way that we all aspire to be — honest, hardworking and successful in every avenue of life.
He was a man who proved his worth, fulfilling so many roles to the absolute best of his ability. It’s strikingly clear how talented of a basketball player, fierce of a competitor, shrewd of a businessman and dedicated of a Los Angeles community member he was.
But clearly, that wasn’t what he was most proud of.
Five-time NBA champion. Two-time Olympic gold medalist. One-time regular season MVP. Top five all-time scorer. Two retired jersey numbers. Hell, even an Oscar winner. And that all paled in comparison to the absolute joy and dedication that he exuded as a husband to Vanessa, and as a father to Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. Writing that out now feels like the understatement of a lifetime.
I think we all share this claim on Kobe because we all recognize a little bit of him in us. Or at least the potential — he motivated us to do more and be more, because he was living proof of the union between that possibility and success. You can be fierce and hardworking beyond belief, you can play the villain when you need to, you can overcome overwhelming adversity (case in point: Kobe conquering his potentially career-ending Achilles tendon injury) and you can still come out on top. Mamba Mentality.
And as time treks on, you can learn and grow from the experiences that have impacted you and inevitably changed the lives of those around you.
In 2003, Kobe was credibly accused of sexual assault and ultimately elected to settle out of court. That should be an important part of our collective memory of him, especially in relation to the lives he impacted.
Part of the social media outcry against the inclusion of this observation with the memorialization of Kobe falsely implies that everything and everyone fall into distinct categories: right or wrong, good or evil, black or white. The reality is that we are incredibly nuanced people living in an incredibly nuanced world; it’s possible to be a good person and do bad things, but the degree to which responsibility is claimed and genuine growth is pursued are the true tests of character.
I believe Kobe spent the rest of his life in this pursuit — likely not in most conducive ways to his victim, but still in the best ways he knew: as a son of the city, husband and father.
I believe in the man Kobe tirelessly strove to be. And I grieve deeply for him, and the countless lives he touched.
Grief is pervasive, and raw, and unforgiving. With time, I hear, it’s supposed to pass.
But maybe, right now, just for a little while, I’m not ready for it to.
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