As a sports analyst and handicapper, I think I’ve used the term “generational talent” three, maybe four times, and that’s covering four major sports. That being said, I’ve never written about Kobe Bryant. I don’t think the term does him justice for two reasons. One, not every generation is blessed with an athlete with talent like Kobe Bryant. Two, the man was so much more than basketball.
I was a freshman in high school when Bryant was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. Many people don’t realize while Los Angeles is the only NBA team Kobe ever played for, that’s not how it started. The kid was traded to the Lakers.
Please don’t take me calling him kid as tasteless or disrespectful. I have much to say about Kobe the man as this article continues. But, when he was thrown into the spotlight, Bryant was a kid, just a few years older than myself.
MJ will always be the goat, yes and amen. However, as a young kid myself who loved sports but couldn’t play, Bryant was someone I could somewhat relate with, because of how young he was. You know what, I’m just going to say it. If the term bothers you, please send me an email so I can pray for you.
Kobe did, and still has, a lot of haters when it comes to NBA fans and certain Christians alike.
Kobe the kid was cocky. More than once, his pride and ego were demonstrated by a comment or remark, and sports reporters were always right there to twist and make the most, good or bad, of his words. The city of Los Angeles loved him. Much of the rest of the NBA world couldn’t stand him. As for me, I idolized him.
You have to realize, I was a smart-mouthed punk in high school. Thinking way too highly of myself. This was demonstrated in the way I lived. I didn’t know Jesus back then, neither did I care to. The difference between people like myself and Kobe Bryant is we didn’t have a skill set we dominated, setting us apart from the rest of the world.
I don’t want this to come off like an article I’m writing about myself.
I have only one intention with writing this. I’m praying someone clicks this link wanting to read about how great of an athlete Kobe Bryant was and end up making drastic changes to their life. That’s slowly what’s been happening with me the previous 17 hours.
Yes, I was a huge, huge, huge fan of Kobe Bryant. He is the second greatest basketball player of all time, in my opinion. I was part of a generation that was able to witness his skill, determination, and work ethic on live television. This isn’t Sports Center, though. If you’re wanting to read about stats and watch highlight footage, you’ve got the wrong sportswriter, and that’s a title I take great pride in, almost too much.
I want to spend the rest of this article writing about Kobe Bryant the man and the direct effect his death is going to play on Jeffrey Stevens, the man. Before we go any further, I have a question I want you to consider as you read along. How are you going to remember Kobe Bryant?
Hearing about Kobe Bryant
Off the top of my head, there are three characteristics I share with Kobe. We both are blessed with the privilege and responsibilities of being a husband. We are blessed with the privilege and responsibilities of being a father. Also, something many people are unaware of with Bryant, we are both devout Catholic men.
This doesn’t make us better or worse than anyone. It simply means we both share the Christian faith, through the Catholic Church. Something you won’t hear on ESPN is going to mass with his daughter is one of the last things Kobe did Sunday morning before the two of them got on a helicopter.
I’m currently a participant in Exodus 90. While this is a Catholic ministry, there’s not a limit to only Catholic men. Many Protestants take part in this every year. It begins 90 days before Easter. It’s a way of disconnecting with the world around you and focusing on becoming more of the men we are created to be.
During the 90 days, social media is a no-no, unless it’s for work. While social media is a huge part of what I do professionally, I have all the apps uninstalled from my phone and I’m not on any of the platforms over the weekend. Also, unless it’s something we are doing as a way of spending time with our family, we don’t watch television for the 90 days. There’s very little influence from the world around us.
The fraternity I’m a part of meets on Sunday evening at 7:00. As our gathering was coming to an end last night, we were asked if we heard about Kobe? As a sports writer and handicapper in the sports betting industry, my mind instantly went to the fact that he was passed by Lebron James on Saturday night as the third all-time scoring leader in the NBA. I was informed by the other guys about the death of Kobe, his daughter, and seven others.
Letting the news soak in
Part of my ritual on Sunday nights is walking to and from church for our meeting. I live just a few blocks away. The walk to and from gives me about an extra 15 minutes of praying for the other men in my fraternity.
I’m going, to be honest. I cried on the way home. I have a four-year-old little girl. If she or I or both of us were taken from her momma, I don’t even want to go there right now. I walked around the block a few times before going home. I just needed to think. As I mentioned earlier, as a teenage boy, I idolized this person.
I didn’t question God or blame anyone. I just thought to myself, I’m missing out on everything. There’s so much to this life I’m not a part of because I’m lazy or not in the mood. It really has to be a blatant slap in the face to Jesus. Not including the fact that I’m a husband or daddy, simply being a human with the ability to give and love others, I skip out on so much because I’m tired or not in the mood. Being a husband and parent can really jack up a weekend of relaxing and enjoying myself. I know I know. Back to Kobe.
Experiencing Kobe the man
Exodus 90 or not, when I got home, I went straight to my office and Sports Center came on. What can I say, I’m a sinner. I watched the Van Pelt show once, and then I watched again as it was replayed. There was something I was missing. I didn’t care about all the highlights and stats. I’ve seen all that a hundred times. I had a bedroom full of his posters. I’ve still got rookie cards and other collectibles from Bryant stashed away in locked boxes just to make sure my daughter can’t color or write on them. That’s when it all started to sink in.
Between all the game footage, I really started studying pictures of Kobe and his family since his retirement, especially pictures of him and his teenage daughter who also lost her life. They had a connection. If you look hard enough, you can see it in their eyes when they look at each other while talking, especially in the photos of them court side at Staples Center.
That’s when it all started hitting me.
Kobe was known as one of the fiercest competitors basketball has ever seen. His work ethic and determination set him way beyond what any other superstar could reach. That’s part of his identity. He was better than everyone else because he worked harder and gave more effort than everyone he played against. Let me ask you something and I hope it rocks your soul like it did mine. Do you think that part of his identity was limited to the game of basketball?
When you perform as Kobe Bryant did, you give the same exact effort in every aspect of your life. Your role as a parent or spouse. How you interact with and engage friends. Most importantly, the way you respond to Jesus. How can something so amazing about an individual be limited to a game children play in the gym as young as elementary school? There’s no way.
No, I’m not going to write this and become the next NBA legend. You’re not going to read this and be able to do a 360 dunk the next time you hit the court. But, what if we chose to remember Kobe the man instead of Kobe the kid? What if we implement what he’s done in our daily life? I’ll tell you what, I’d give anything to have my little girl look at me in the eyes as intently as his daughter did in the pictures I’ve seen in the previous 12 hours. She didn’t look at him like that because of how many free throws he made.
She stared at him that way because being the best father he could be was important to him. It required a skill set. Many hours were involved in becoming the best daddy he could be for that little girl. It involves sacrifice. The competitor in Kobe wasn’t going to let any man say they were a better father than he was.
Because of how important this was to him, he was willing to do the work when everyone else was asleep and before they woke up. That’s the dad I want to be. That’s the kind of picture I want someone to see. Someone to remember who I was when I’m gone and think of when they start praying. I want to wear that number 24 jersey.
When I get put in the ground and God asks me what I did with His Son and how I went about bringing the world around me closer to Jesus, I want to be able to tell Him, “I brought it like Kobe Bryant did.”