“So you won’t be lonely.” – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
Thank you for reminding me of your absolute beauty and power particularly over these last few days. Sometimes it takes death to make us feel alive. You knew Kobe Bryant. We all did, but you knew him better than anyone. Most of us just knew that he was a world-beloved basketball icon. Number four on the all-time scoring list, five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, and an 18-time all-star. Was he perfect? We know he wasn’t. You surely know he wasn’t. Did he have struggles? Of course. He was merely flesh.
We know that Kobe was idolized not only by many in our country, but all over Europe, and Asia, and South America. What we haven’t heard a lot about is that Kobe was worshipping You just two hours before his earthly body was taken. He was a faithful attendee at the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach and was also known to attend weekday mass. The members all knew that Kobe and his family would arrive just a few minutes late, sit in the back pews, and leave a few minutes early so as not to disturb those around him.
Jesus, I feel like You just gave us a small glimpse of what You can do with gifts. You gave us a reminder at the brevity of life, but Your gifts were on full artistic display for nearly 20 years within a mortal man referred to as “The Black Mamba.” It was those gifts that made people smile, laugh, hug, high-five, and shake their collective heads over the course of a career.
Sure, we know that your presence, your Spirit, can function like the wind to a sailboat filling sails and leading us to unimaginable places. But You can also give wings to a basketball player to soar like an eagle. And in turn You brought people together in love and commonality with a common purpose regardless of race, color, sex, religious and political views, and socioeconomic status. When You were on full display in the Staples Center in L.A, You brought love. You brought joy. You brought kindness and goodness. You brought awe and wonder.
People that say “I don’t think Jesus cares about basketball” – well, I think You see 20,000 souls sitting and standing together in unison. I think You see an opportunity to bring beautiful, indescribable artistry through Your Spirit into peoples’ lives, and people don’t even realize it. The scenes You paint with Your brilliant unseen hand can only be admired with a longing – a longing to possess a small piece of whatever this is that we’re witnessing. I think You see 20,000 people cheering for Your creation. I think You see thousands of others throughout the world cheering for the gifts that give us live art, that give us pause to reflect and admire. I think You see 20,000 people that need You, and if for two hours You can show off a brilliant creation that brings them closer to You, it’s then You can begin to work in those hearts and minds. Hearts become open to receiving when they’re lost in awe and amazement. They receive Your beauty sometimes unknowingly. Those hearts are washed in a flood of emotions much like everyday life – with joy, sadness, disappointment, triumph, and ultimately a beginning and an ending.
Kobe Bryant wore 2 different numbers while playing in the NBA. He wore the number 8 when he first arrived in the league. His first choice was 24, (which was the number he wore in high school), but an older player was wearing that jersey number so he wore 8 for ten years and when he switched back to 24, he said it was symbolic of his growth and maturation as a person. He was having a broader perspective on life by that time, and realizing what was most important. It was still basketball, but I like to believe that his walk with You was growing closer.
Kobe Bryant spent seven years living as a youngster in Italy (ages 6-13) where he visited and spent time in Rome, so if we open up the good book, and go to the Book of Romans, Chapter 8 and verse 24, Paul writes “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”
Like those that hoped for another last second win by Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, or those that hoped Kobe would score one more point or create one more highlight reel dunk, let us continue in hope for things unseen. Hope for Your beauty in tragedies we don’t understand. Hope for words of comfort to come out of confusion and pain. And for a hope in a higher calling that fills thousands of stirring souls… including mine.
“God bless you working on a plan to heaven
Follow the lord all twenty-four-seven days, God is who we praise
Even though the devil’s all up in my face”
This is probably my favorite 90’s rap song. The song was released the same year that Kobe Bryant was drafted into the NBA at 17 years of age with the 13th pick by the Charlotte Hornets – 1996 (he was traded to the Lakers before the season started). This song went all the way to another number Kobe probably appreciated as much as any – the number one. A #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s Bone Thugs-N-Harmony with “Tha Crossroads”
Also, if you’ve never seen his Academy Award-winning (yes, Kobe won an Oscar) short film entitled “Dear Basketball,” then take a few minutes to watch it.