On November 29, 2015, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant would see Dear Basketball be published in the Players’ Tribune. The poem was an ode to the sport of basketball, to the game that afforded him so many invaluable opportunities both on and off the court; to the game that he loved. It was also an admission that after 20 years he was finally ready to let go of his first true passion. A few months later he would hang up his jersey for good.
Dear Basketball was later adapted into a 5-minute movie, directed and animated by Glen Keane, and narrated by Bryant himself. Upon its release, it would go on to win several awards, including an Oscar in 2018 for Best Animated Short Film. In his tribute to the game of basketball, Bryant spoke from the perspective of his six year old self, and how even as he matured into a man, his love never waned. He told the world about much he sacrificed for basketball, and in the end, he was finally ready to step into the next phase of his life.
“My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind, but my body knows it’s time to say goodbye,” the future Hall of Famer penned. “And that’s OK.”
The irony of Dear Basketball was its overall themes of purpose, acceptance, and learning to let go. But on January 26, 2020, that was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever had to do. On that foggy winter morning, Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna; baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa; Payton Chester and her mother Sara; basketball coach Christina Mauser; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan, were killed in a tragic helicopter crash that rocked the world to its core.
For me, that crash in Calabasas was the first time I can remember being emotional for someone that I didn’t know personally. It wasn’t just because my childhood idol was gone, but it also served as a reminder of just how short this life can be, and how you should cherish every moment, every experience, and every opportunity that you may come across. “I never saw the end of the tunnel,” Bryant wrote in Dear Basketball, and unfortunately, many of us never do.
The connection to Kobe Bryant runs so deep for many because he grew up right before our eyes. I remember watching the 1996 NBA Draft as a nine-year-old boy, seeing eventual stars such as Allen Iverson, Stephon Marbury, Ray Allen, and Steve Nash hear their name called to embark on a journey that only a select few are chosen for. With the 13th pick, the Charlotte Hornets selected a bright-eyed teenager from Philadelphia with an infectious smile. The legendary Jerry West would set up a trade with Charlotte, sending center Vlade Divac to the Hornets, and bringing Bryant to Hollywood.
“I played through the sweat and hurt, not because challenge called me, but because YOU called me,” the fifth stanza of Dear Basketball reads. “I did everything for YOU, Because that’s what you do when someone makes you feel as alive as you’ve made me feel.”
During his two-decade tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant went on to become a 5-time NBA Champion, two-time Finals MVP, multiple All-Star appearances, a league MVP in 2008, achieve Olympic gold, and would go down as one of the greatest players in the history of professional basketball. Off the court, he would become a husband to Vanessa, a father to Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri, a best-selling author and an inspiration to millions. He would also show us his flaws and imperfections, and teach us that no matter how many times you fail, it presents the opportunity to succeed once again. It was in his mistakes that drew people closer to him, because it made him human – a trait that we all share.
I’m ready to let you go,” Bryant said as his award-winning short film drew to a close. “I want you to know now so we both can savor every moment we have left together. The good and the bad. We have given each other all that we have.”
On what would have been Bryant’s 44th birthday, people should not only take a moment to reflect on his legacy, but their own as well. The time that we have on this earth is so short, so fleeting; it is critical that we give everything that we can, whenever we can. Learn to accept things as they are, and know when to walk away from the things that aren’t meant for you. Dear Basketball vividly tells the story of life’s endless possibilities when one dedicates their entire being to a purpose, whatever that may be. So today, be sure to laugh, love – and most of all – live.
Happy Birthday, Kobe.