Sunday’s tragic news didn’t seem possible. Kobe Bryant, age 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash.
Mr. Bryant was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. He was a five-time NBA champion, 18-time all-star, two-time Olympic gold medalist and retired as the league’s third leading scorer. Mr. Bryant wasn’t just willing to take the last shot. He sought it out, demanding the ball and the responsibility for winning and losing.
His work ethic was legendary, even among NBA All-Stars. His craftsmanship on the court and competitive fire earned him the adoration of millions of fans and the respect of his opponents. His fame wasn’t limited to Los Angeles. As basketball expanded its global reach, the Lakers star was identifiable worldwide by just his first name — Kobe.
It’s interesting to consider why sports figures inspire such loyalty and sadness at their passing. Compared to the outpouring of support and sympathy, relatively few people knew Mr. Bryant personally. But Mr. Bryant wasn’t just a guy who showed up on TV regularly. His excellence brought people — including those otherwise divided by race, religion or politics — together. Witness President Donald Trump and former-President Barack Obama both paying respects via Twitter after the news broke. His former rivals followed suit.
Mr. Bryant helped millions of children enjoy the game of basketball and see what can happen when someone works hard. He embodied one of the most important life lessons of sports: Practice leads to improvement.
Mr. Bryant wasn’t perfect. His struggles and failures both off the court and on the court were well-known. His career took off as the availability of information via the internet proliferated. Yet, by all accounts, he kept striving to get better as an athlete and a family man.
His transition after retirement was remarkable. He won an Oscar in 2018 and pursued numerous business ventures. He seemed thrilled to be spending more time with his family, including his wife, Vanessa, and their four daughters. Before Sunday, fans had been excitedly sharing a video of Mr. Bryant sitting courtside with his daughter at a recent NBA game.
His death was tragic enough. Dying in a crash with his teenage daughter on the way to her basketball game just seems cruel. The other seven passengers on the helicopter weren’t as well known, but that doesn’t lessen the pain their families now feel.
In death, Mr. Bryant taught us one last lesson. Every day is a gift. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Hug your family and friends close and tell them you love them.