Kobe Bryant, Legacy & Living Life Well

As much as anyone I was shocked to hear the news of the untimely death of Kobe Bryant. Any sports fan is probably stunned. I found out while shopping for mattresses and the sales agent saw the news on his Apple watch. We both sat there floored for a few minutes and then I said, “Life is short so live it well.”

I don’t mean to downplay the life and accomplishments of Kobe, actually I want to highlight them so we can learn from a life lived intentionally.

As a life-long Golden State Warrior fan I have long loathed Kobe’s on-court destruction of my team over 20 years. But I cannot say a bad thing about how hard he worked at his craft to be the best he could at the game he loved. Not only did he rise to #3 on the all-time NBA scoring list (until the day before the crash), but also had the second highest scoring game in NBA history at 81 points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006. He spent long hours in the gym off-season and after hours to improve his shot. He relentlessly worked to grow and develop in his mechanics so that on-court those motions and effort would be second-nature muscle memory. Zach Lowe’s ESPN article goes into way more detail on his work ethic than I could. For 20 years he raised the level of excellence of his teammates and helped the Lakers win 5 championships. Amazing.

After I put my kids to bed, I finally had a chance to sit and catch up on the news reports. I was most impressed by an interview with Ramona Shelburne, an NBA correspondent who has covered Kobe all these years. She was talking about a piece she wanted to do to honor Kobe at the end of his playing career. She mentioned Kobe saying, “Everything has been written, from every angle, there’s nothing left to say.” She asked Kobe, “Well what is there left to say?” His response: he only wanted to cover what his legacy will be, what can he pass on to younger players, and what he would be remembered for. Listen to the whole interview to hear a moving tribute by Ms. Shelburne.

Kobe Bryant will be remembered for his on-court accomplishments for sure, but he should also be remembered for his off-court character. He was a husband, a father, an encourager, an entrepreneur, a film-maker, a larger than life figure. I love the photos being shared featured him, and his daughter Gianna, and how tenderly he had his arms around her. You can tell he loved his kids, his family, and the intentionality of his investment into his family. He made amends for his off-court mistakes, took responsibility, and changed course knowing how people looked up to him. He prioritized the right and important issues, and minimized the small stuff. Immortalized as the “Black Mamba” he personified his “mamba mentality” by saying, “I have no fear whatsoever.” He went for it ALL IN on anything that he tried. I honestly respected how he lived his life. ALL IN. NO FEAR. WORK TIRELESSLY. BELIEVE IN PEOPLE.

My statement from when I found out comes directly from the lyrics of a Switchfoot song called Live it Well.

Life is short; I wanna live it well
One life, one story to tell
Life is short; I wanna live it well
And you’re the one I’m living for
Awaken all my soul
Every breath that you take is a miracle
Life is short; I wanna live it well, yeah
I wanna sing with all my heart a lifelong song
Even if some notes come out right and some come out wrong
‘Cause I can’t take none of that through the door
Yeah, I’m living for more than just a funeral
I wanna burn brighter than the dawn

Those words continually challenge me to make the most of my life. Because I don’t know when my last day will be, I want to be intentional about everything in my life. The sudden death of Kobe Bryant is one of those events that makes me evaluate whether I am doing what I can to leave a legacy. I’ve spoken about what Kobe will be remembered for but what do I want to be remembered for. What are things we can invest in so that we will live our lives well.

  1. Loving people. Ramona Shelburne in another interview (at the 3:05 mark) said that “Kobe cared, and he always knew just what to say.” I may not always know what the perfect thing to say will be but I want to people around me to know I loved them. That I cared. When the hard times hit, I would be willing to sit with them while they hurt. I don’t always show great patience around my kids, but I want them to know I love them regardless of whether they are driving me nuts. I want to be known for telling people in my life I love them. But I truly want to prioritize people and loving them well as much as I can.
  2. Investing your expertise. Shelburne said after his career all Kobe was living for was about “legacy, teaching the world, teaching the kids of the next generation.” He wanted to pass along what he had learned and what made him excellent. If we want to leave a legacy, that needs to be our mentality too…passing along our expertise so that others can raise their game. If we keep it to ourselves aren’t we being selfish. I’m a photographer, and more than ever I want to spend time with other photographers who want to learn and give away my expertise. Won’t people remember when you impart to them something that helps them get better. Let’s be generous about the things we know…humbly, for their betterment.
  3. Always be a learner. Shelburne talks in one of her tribute interviews about how Kobe would cold call Hollywood producers and ask how they made that film. He would ask questions and try to learn what he could from each call. Kobe then went out and produced a short animated film called “Dear Basketball” which won an Oscar. So, he learned and implemented. This is part of what people were calling Kobe’s second act in life. He was a learner. We need to be learners too. It challenges and stimulates our minds, and gives excitement about the future as you implement. I just went to a writing conference on better storytelling. I want to be a learner and implementer. Won’t people remember if you are continually asking questions in order to learn and grow. Curiosity was one of Kobe’s greatest attributes.
  4. Demonstrate grit. In the above hyperlinked tribute, Shelburne talked of Kobe’s “indomitable will,” highlighting him shooting two free throws after tearing his achilles tendon. She mentioned his perseverance and dedication to recovering from that injury and continually working at getting better. Sticking with something even when it is hard is a quality of someone who succeeds. There is blessing that comes when we push through difficulty. James 1:12 in the New Testament challenges us with this thought, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” We love the Olympic stories of those who finish even after injuries. We will likely also be remembered if we are people that push through our difficulty and achieve dreams, whether small or big. Keep going friends.
  5. No fear. Shelburne said that Kobe’s “mamba mentality” is world renowned because of his willingness to take on anything. “I have no fear whatsoever,” Kobe said in an interview once. Fear paralyzes and causes us to not move forward. This is why armies train under fire, they need to learn how to continue to move forward even when all hell is blowing up around them. Now there is such thing as healthy fear. Two months ago I fell ten feet from a ladder, so now I fear ladders. But I think we could all use a dose of “mamba mentality” to believe great things happen when we go for it. Some of the greatest things happen in life when we press through something we are afraid of and find we didn’t die from trying it. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”…right. Fear stops us. Let’s not let fear get the best of us.
  6. Higher Power. Some things seem impossible to tackle. Take for instance addiction to drugs, alcohol or food. Addictions are hard to kick. I think there is something to those 12-step programs which invite us to see that a higher power can help us because we are so weak in our own strength to fight. I find that personalizing this higher power makes it all the more powerful. I pray to my Father all the time for strength, perspective, help in the midst of adversity, and for the reminder to be intentional. The five things mentioned above are hard to do, maybe impossible, in our own strength. There is a God who loves you, believes in you, and wants to be the strength behind your victories. Will you invite him to be a part of your legacy?

Some additional words of that Switchfoot song resonate with me. “Even if some notes come out right and some come out wrong.” To me that speaks of the mistakes we all make. No one is perfect. But owning up to those mistakes and not letting the mistakes mark you as much as the getting back up and doing the right thing. Keep going, keep singing.

“Yeah, I’m living for more than just a funeral, I want to burn brighter than the dawn.” We know that at our funeral, everyone will say all the great things about us, the memorable things. But why wait for the end to be about the end. Leaving a legacy is about living a life well now, living out the qualities that are memorable, telling people you are proud of them. Burning brighter than the dawn is speaking life out to the world now, building people up, sharing what you know so that others grow. So let’s all burn brighter, speak life, tell people we love them. Life is short, we never know when the end will happen. Life is short, I wanna live it well. Will you do that with me?

Wandering on Purpose, Mick

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