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Kobe, Memories, and Redemption

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2) … I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work. (Ecclesiastes 3:17)

When I saw the news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday I was genuinely shocked – a young (retired) athlete cut down in his prime is a tragic story no matter how it unfolds, but to have grown up a fan of the NBA and to have watched this young man literally grow up before your eyes and then die before becoming an old man…it is a stark reminder that King Solomon’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes rings true at a time like this.

Kobe was always part of the enemy dynasty for me (the Celtics and the Lakers were hated foes of my beloved Bulls) but after Michael Jordan retired, I had to admire the championships the Lakers managed to put together with their own dynamic duo – Kobe as the Jordan-like all around wizard making plays and amazing shots and his partner-in-crime, the very big and very goofy Shaquille O’Neal, taking care of the “paint”; they were a lot of fun to watch. I remember actually taking an interest in the NBA Finals and watching their first two championships against East Coast teams that ‘were not the Bulls’. In the Lakers first championship the Pacers and Reggie Miller gave them six tough games and then in the second championship somehow the gritty 76ers managed to win one game after which it was all Kobe and Shaq for four straight wins – these two championships eventually lead to a total of five over the next eleven years (one less than my beloved Bulls!) But it was soon after these first two championships I began to lose interest in the NBA (and it didn’t help that the Bulls have struggled and/or were cursed with bad luck ever since Jordan retired.)

As for Kobe’s family, we can only offer our prayers and be thankful that he was a public figure who came to realize the importance of faith and was willing to talk publicly about his Catholicism. It is easy to get very cynical with high-paid public athletes, especially ones who get into the news because they are involved in one scandal or another, and to dismiss them all as a sideshow to the ‘real world’ of home, church and local community. However, as John Daniel Davidson reminds us in this piece, in Kobe’s case we have a chance to take an important lesson to heart -- his life is a good reminder of the reality of the redemption which is available to all of us if we turn to Christ. In many of the tributes pouring in to Kobe, folks have acknowledged that Kobe grew up Catholic and his faith was important to helping him ‘man-up’ and deal with the issues that grew out of his earlier wild life and the accusation of rape from 2003 that almost ended his marriage. He even attended morning Mass before the fateful helicopter flight on Sunday morning. So we are left with the Italian speaking black kid from Philly, who was a Mass going Catholic who understood the power of Christ’s forgiveness – maybe in the end we can hope that God's purpose for Kobe, however mysterious, will be to help others be reminded of this power.

Comments (4)

Excellent reminder, thank you, Jeff!

I find it interesting that what we have in Kobe is a guy who was, arguably, the absolute best in the world (in his prime) at his sport, who went on to discover that just(!) being the best in the world at his chosen profession didn't guarantee him "the good life", or happiness. It didn't even guarantee him that his marriage would remain intact. Your profession (and your hobbies, and your chores, and your recreations) constitute merely the substrate for the "real", business end of what makes a life a good life. The the moral /spiritual side of those actions is the other part, that informs those actions with the qualities that make them into good human acts, (or not), and thus part of the good life (or not). And, by definition, it is impossible for a man to be happy apart from making his life one in which he chooses acts that constitute the good life. And this we can aspire to with the grace of God. Which, I believe, we have good reason to hope, was also what Kobe Bryant was also aspiring to by his active participation in the Church and other aspects of his life. I pray that Kobe and everyone else on that helicopter had time enough and presence of mind to throw themselves on God's mercy to be received into the next life.

Dear Lydia,

Completely off-topic.

Have you thought about putting "The Mirror or the Mask" in Kindle format?

My e-mail is available under my author name on the right.

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