“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Mt 24:36)
You may have heard of the tragic death of NBA great, Kobe Bryant. He was in a helicopter on the way to his daughter’s basketball game when the helicopter crashed, killing not only Kobe but his daughter and 7 others as well. The others on board were parents, friends and teammates of Gianna (Kobe’s daughter).
This has sent shockwaves not only in the NBA community but across so many sporting codes, Hollywood and around the world. By simply googling his name, you’ll see thousands of tributes have been made. Millions of people seem to have had some connection with him and feel like they have lost a family member. I have to say I also feel the loss and I have never met him.
I remember seeing the breaking news as I was skimming through the headlines getting updates on bushfires that have been burning for months now in Australia. Immediately I felt shocked and in disbelief at the news. I said a quick prayer for his soul and all the victims on that helicopter before sharing the news with my two eldest boys who became familiar with Kobe from the highlight videos we watched over the last couple of years leading up to my son’s basketball games.
My eldest son began to play basketball 3 years ago so I looked for online videos for inspiration. We came across lots that showed not only Michael Jordan or LeBron James but also Kobe Bryant and he soon became one of my favourite players. I said to my boys “this news is a reminder to all of us that life is short and can end when we least expect it”. They were shocked as much as I was and asked questions and also said a prayer for him.
“Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”(Mt 25:13)
Kobe Bryant, known to be one of the best basketball players that has ever played the game, recently retired from the NBA. He was born in 1978 in Philadelphia but then moved to Italy as a 6 year old to a small town one hour outside of Rome. He was drafted into the NBA right out of high school as a 17 year old and was a stand out right away. He was already talked about then as possibly “the next Michael Jordan”.
What’s interesting is that only 4 years earlier he had a season where he did not score any points at all. He was not a standout but decided to work on his game and as a 13 year old made a commitment to work hard for the rest of his life. He focused on one part of his game (open shots) and then the following season he scored a few shots. He kept working hard and at the end of that next year as a 14 year old, he made the state team and became the top point scorer! This gives hope to anyone who puts their mind to something and works hard – that anything is possible.
I have a small connection with this story. When I was 12 I tried out for the local rugby league team but got dropped from the side as I was not a very good player. This was the second time this had happened and I was devastated. I was determined to work at it and the following year as a 13 year old, I barely made it in the team for club and school. By the end of that year I was a stand out player and played representatives for school and upper grade with the older boys.
By the time I was 15, I was captain of the school team and we won the grand final. My best season was as a 17 year old and I was in talks with selectors from the Bulldogs – my favourite club – about trying out for them. One day, while playing the game of my life, I happened to break my arm. This put me out for the season and my team went on to win the grand final without me.
It’s funny looking back but that was the turning point for me. I could have made it to the next level in rugby league, which was a dream, and I would have gone down a very different path. With my broken arm I had time to reflect and think, which prepared me for my encounter that I had with Christ the following year. Thanks to that encounter, I was led to start up Parousia and to be doing the work I am today. God allowed that suffering in my life in order to draw a greater good.
Kobe Bryant was a practising Catholic. According to a recent interview, his Catholic faith helped him through one of the darkest times of his life. In an interview with GQ, he explained how he leaned on his Catholic faith to help him get through the ordeal: “I was terrified. The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.” Kobe and his wife remained together and reconciled. He is now remembered for his commitment to be a loving husband and dedicated father to his four girls. He inspired the world to value family which is much needed today!
The Bryant’s were parishioners at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, California. NBC Los Angeles interviewed several Catholics who knew him. The parishioners said they “absolutely loved” him. They referred to him as “humble,” “a devout Catholic,” a dedicated husband and father, and “a true man of God.”
Although it’s hard to say how dedicated he was to his faith, we do know that he was regularly spotted not only going to Sunday mass with the family but also during the week as well. I take consolation knowing he went to Mass at 7am with his daughter, receiving Holy Communion before getting on the helicopter. He made that effort to go to an early Mass and this gives us a clue that he at least valued the importance of the Mass a little more than the average Catholic might.
Kobe Bryant’s work schedule was on a level of its own. He would train at 4am every morning and do double the training sessions than was required. He is well known for being one of the most hard working and dedicated athletes of all time.
He did this for 20 years and this alone has inspired so many to improve their efforts in whatever they do. This is a true sign of the virtues of fortitude and temperance, as he worked so hard and had so much self control. This was not only inspiring to NBA players but to athletes and professionals around the world. I can’t help think of the St Paul quote here,
“Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (1 Corinthians 9:25).
How much more should we be working for the ultimate prize that does not perish! Heaven awaits all of us. Just like many put in so much effort to receive Gold, Silver or Bronze, think about applying that type of effort to our souls and spiritual lives. The prize is imperishable and will last forever. May Kobe be enjoying that prize in heaven with his daughter and all who lost their lives in the crash.
One last note and takeaway that may give an insight as to why God allows these tragedies to happen… After retirement Kobe was known to put so much effort into parenting and was a role model for many fathers. He valued family life and wanted to spend as much time as possible with his family.
The sudden death has caused some, even during live interviews, to pause and admit that life is short and to say sorry to people they had differences with. This is the power of death, it is a reminder that we are not on earth forever and we should value the people around us. Could it be that even after his life has ended, Kobe is still inspiring people to be the best versions of themselves?
I encourage all of us today to stop and call someone you have not spoken to for a while and say you love them. Appreciate all the blessings in life and, most importantly, forgive your enemies as we will be judged on how we forgive others. Next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer and get to the point “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”, think about anyone in your life whom you have not forgiven and set yourself free by offering forgiveness.
Thank you Lord for your forgiveness and for using a person like Kobe as an instrument to help people better their lives. Eternal Rest Grant unto them O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.
This week on the Voice of Charity, Charbel Raish & Salwa Elias discussed the passing of Kobe Bryant as well as the Australian bushfires and the March for Life in Washington.