A letter, written to someone I admired, revered, respected, tried to emulate. The world will forever feel the pain of his absence, it simply isn’t as good without him.
You were a legend. I hesitate to even write the word, because I feel the word pales in comparison to who you were and what you accomplished in your short life. I feel that way, selfishly, for things you did for me in my life. I feel that way professionally, for your tirelessness, your deep-seated ambition, your motivation, the way you would show up early and stay late, no matter how many championships you won. And obviously, the world marveled at your god-like athleticism. You are, bar-none, one of the top athletes of all time and we all know what good sportsmen require: discipline, strength, stamina, drive, commitment, competence, and sacrifice.
But this letter isn’t about marveling at your limitless accomplishments while you were here. It’s about what losing you has inspired in all of us, worldwide. You inspired teammates, ex-presidents, and countless others; from the world of sports to the world of music, EVERYONE is pained by your loss.
I was almost traumatized when the NBA didn’t cancel all games, subsequent to your untimely and devastating passing. To me, It was an insult to you and your family, your memory and your still-constant presence on those courts. But both former teammates and competitors throughout the NBA honored you and continue to honor you by taking violations of 8 or 24 seconds, commemorating your retired numbers with the Lakers.
It’s almost like you intrinsically knew you would die young given the impact you made, the fervor with which you tackled everything in your life, and everything you accomplished at such a young age. But the statement that motivates me every day, that I will take with me to my own grave is perhaps the most prescient: “It’s not about how many years you could put into your life; it’s about how much life you can put into your years.”
This quote, in so many ways, defines EXACTLY who I am, who I inspire my family to be, what I want to inspire everyone I come in contact with to be. What good is a life, just existing? Just waiting for the next thing to happen? Waiting for things to happen to us, instead of for us. We are lions. We are meant to achieve, attack, MAKE. LIFE. HAPPEN. And that’s exactly what you did. You are famous for saying (on the court) that your sole purpose was to make your opponents regret the decision, not only to want to guard you, but that they even decided to choose basketball as a profession. You rode the fine line between confident and cocky, and yet you earned the right to be both. You went out and made your mark. You made a mark that people who are 90 years old haven’t made. Couldn’t make. Couldn’t even imagine.
With your sudden and tragic death, in one instant: you made LeBron James cry, you motivated Brian McKnight to write a song for you, the Grammy’s paid tribute at the opening of the show mere hours after your death, with Alicia Keys and Boyz 2 Men singing to you, Carmelo Anthony couldn’t even play the game after your passing, DWade and Shaq until today can’t say two words without getting emotional, you were commemorated at the Super Bowl, millions held moments of silence across the globe and still do, and on and on and on.
Jeanie Buss wrote a heartbreaking tribute, “You not only inspired us towards greatness, you showed us the way.” This sentiment is heard consistently in regard to your presence (and now absence) in a sport that you dominated and excelled at. Basketball players around the globe were already motivated by you, and your passing only swells those numbers. You were all about giving yourself to anyone who would listen; you would speak to anyone with an interest— a fire in their bellies. You thrived off that and people were drawn to you because of it. You weren’t the sort of leader who dropped us in the deep end and yelled “swim!!”, instead you pulled people aside to motivate, coach, mentor, inspire, and truly lead them. You were famous for providing all the tools and confidence to achieve, achieve, achieve. I aspire to be half the man you were, but I can only hope to do it in twice as much time.
People have referred to me as the “Kobe Bryant of Brokers” for years, and it always made me uncomfortable. It’s hard to be compared to someone you so admire because I work hard, but I don’t feel I’ve achieved enough to be compared to someone of his stature. But I will take the spirit in which it has been said because it propels me forward every day toward greatness. There has, truly, never been someone in my life who I didn’t personally know that inspired and motivated me the way you have. I will miss the fire you lit under me with every new accomplishment you made and new feat you took on. But I will live my life, and I hope we all live our lives, to reach the goals you were working towards— All. By. Yourself.
Your best friend, Rob Pelinka, said it best: “He amputated a part of our soul.” Simply put, it couldn’t be more true. Los Angeles, California, the United States, hell, THE WORLD, lost a champion that day. We lost someone who gave us hope, who inspired all of us, who made us all feel like we were part of something larger than ourselves. Not only did so many strive to be you, you allowed us to find comfort and solace in who we are. You birthed dreams, spoke out and stood up for those who couldn’t do so for themselves, and weren’t afraid to try new endeavors — and in fact, overachieve in every single one. When you died, the world let out a collective, heaving cry of despair and disappointment because we believed you could do it all by yourself. But now there is a sense of responsibility that we all share to take up your legacy and do what good we can because that’s what you did. Every. Single. Day.
I leave you with this. 17 years ago, I was lost, afraid, felt down-and-out, like the universe had dealt me a raw deal. Not sure I was going to live another month, yet I was fighting. Fighting to survive, fighting to prove myself, realizing that not only was I not done living, I hadn’t even begun. I TiVo’d (that’s what we had at the time) all the Laker games during my bout with cancer because I couldn’t watch them live. Everyone who knew me knew never to spoil the outcome of any game, because it’s what I looked forward to most, at the time. For a year I had to check in to the hospital for weeks at a time, not knowing what you did until I got home to ten recorded games. Watching your perfect athleticism awed me. It made me forget, for a minute, what I was going through because it allowed me to dream about who I could become. You inspired me, in so many ways, to be the man I am today. No one else could do that for me, at the time.
So because I never had the opportunity to say it out loud or to you, personally, let me say it here: Thank you. Thank you for being that solace and oasis. Thank you for giving me a reason and a motivation to step into my dreams. Thank you for being the awe-inspired success that you were so we all know it’s possible. Thank you for leaving such big shoes to fill and for proving that it can be done. My heart is with your family during this difficult time. But to be honest, we’re all feeling it, Kobe— across the street, across the city, across the nation, across the world. We have all shed tears for you, and it is my personal hope that those tears motivate all of us to be the sort of people you made us feel like we could be. I am making it my personal mission to rally people to accomplish what you were going to and no longer can.
Thank you for bringing us all together. I hope, as the weeks go by, your memory doesn’t dull or fade. I hope it lives on forever. After all, if it does not, what hope is there for the rest of us?