Kobe Bryant and the Complicated Legacy of Legends

I held back posting this until I found a piece that resonated with me. This was it.

Kobe Bryant’s passing sent shockwaves through my basketball family and brought entire cities to their knees. He was the Black Mamba, a symbol of what one can accomplish when you grit your teeth and put in the hard work. And those same values were being trained into his children – his daughter Gianna especially, who also passed in the same tragic accident. What he meant to the NBA and to every kid who grew up with dreams.. it’s immeasurable.

I can’t even begin to understand the loss felt by his wife and family.

The grieving of his passing made me pause and think about what it means to worship false gods and human idols, which is why I didn’t post about this before. I didn’t quite know how to put it to words. In the midst of so much collective grief, how do we come to terms with the fact that people like Kobe Bryant are not gods, and that they are in fact complicated humans who are many things to many different people? How do we do this without intruding in people’s grief?

To millions, he was adored as a hero – one who inspired the greatest of dreams. To millions, he was an arrogant man who struggled to share the spotlight with other talented people, and yet was worthy of admiration for his talent. To others, he may have been their abuser. I wonder what it is like for those people to sit and watch as all of North America mourns his tragic passing?

It’s a difficult thing to reconcile. And when someone passes, it’s uncomfortable to drudge up the very worst parts of them and put it on display. It feels dishonouring, somehow. And completely inconvenient.

Still. Kobe was a legend, touted for his impact, and so we must face all aspects of his impact. While I salute him and his legacy, I don’t let myself forget that he is, after all, just a man. A human being. Infallible, imperfect, human. And given this truth, I do believe that telling the whole story of legends, transparently, even the ugly parts, is the most honest way to honour someone’s memory.. especially as we are trying to elevate our youth and show them what it means to be the best versions of themselves. What it means to admit, face, and humbly accept responsibility for the worst parts of ourselves, even as we celebrate our greatest accomplishments.

Kobe was a lot of things to a lot of different people. Holding on to the nuance that he is not a god among us – it’s the only way we can begin to hold even the most powerful people accountable for their less desirable behaviours.

This article by Jill Filipovic goes into further detail about all of this. I recommend the read. It’s written with as much nuance, respect, and balance as I’ve ever seen done in an opinion piece.

Rest in Peace, Kobe.

I am confident that you put more good into the world than bad. From the outside looking in, you appeared to have been a good father, a philanthropist, an inspiration to millions. I just hope that if you really did hurt people, you’ve come to terms with this fact, and that those people have found it within themselves to heal.