Age often fades a person’s impact on the world. Successors come and records are surpassed. Ask any kid playing basketball in the street nowadays who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is, or who that guy (Michael Jordan) is leaping in the logo across their trainers, and the response might be hazy.
But Kobe Bryant’s contribution was fresh and his passing in Sunday’s helicopter crash in Calabasas is horrendously untimely. LeBron James may have eerily just overtaken Bryant in the all-time scorer’s records less than 24 hours before, but Bryant was anything but suddenly irrelevant because of his numbers. He meant much more than that.
Despite having retired in 2016 from the NBA (National Basketball Association), he still stood as the basketball player that your grandmother would be able to pick out in a pub quiz, and it’s long become irrelevant whether he scored 33,643 or 33,655 to sit third or fourth in the all-time top scorers’ charts.
Everybody is human. But what is remembered is that despite all of this, Bryant dominated his generation with the type of class, dedication and leadership that demands respect and can serve as an age-old example to others
He transcended his sport to a degree that despite being an American in an American game, most of the world would put him up there in a list of top names along with the likes of Roger Federer, Tiger Woods and Cristiano Ronaldo, who are as much brands as they are ambassadors. And that’s despite the three above having yet to retire. Four years on from retirement and Bryant’s effect still resonated.
It hasn’t always been plain sailing. It never is, as the three above can also testify when you are jettisoned as a role model despite having foibles. Everybody is human. But what is remembered is that despite all of this, Bryant dominated his generation with the type of class, dedication and leadership that demands respect and can serve as an age-old example to others.
Dying young and in your prime, people will remember you the way you were. And indeed it does encapsulate Bryant in his moment that might be extra-rose tinted due to the circumstances. But it also cruelly denies him — along with, of course, the eight others who were on that flight, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna — a chance to achieve greatness in the second chapter of his life. As Barack Obama called it ‘a just as meaningful second act.’
And if the outpouring of grief from politicians, athletes and celebrities the world over is anything to go by over the last 24 hours, with social media feeds awash with his passing, then that second act would have been quite a thing to behold, and could have gone some way to softening elements of his complex and competitive character.