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Opinion

On legacy, mortality and life's purpose

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Roar Rookie
29th January, 2020
1

One day, I will die.

It’s the one guarantee of my life the moment I was born. It’s the one incontrovertible element of life that binds us all together.

There is no escape from this doom. You could make the case that everything we do in life is in reflection and resistant to this fact.

All actions are bound to it in one way or another. It is so certain that we often ignore it, assuming it is far off, beyond the horizon of our existence to not bother contemplating.

Of course, we are surrounded by it every day. News constantly barraging us with deaths in places near and far.

Murders, accidents, bombings, war, viruses, natural and man made disasters. The one constant in our lives never fails to catch us unawares.

And closer to home, family, friends, loved ones. It brushes gently across our souls, or strikes it like a battering ram.

For we strive to defy it. In our actions and thoughts. To craft and shape a world for ourselves that gives purpose to every breath we take.

Whether it be through the work we do, the love we have for another, our passions or hobbies, or to build a legacy that goes beyond our physical self so that generations in the future can benefit from it and strive for something more than they thought possible.

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The promise of death gifts us with the fire to burn as brightly as possible. Sometimes we falter and misstep, our path growing rocky or unsure.

We will fail, often, more than we will succeed. Some will make it, some won’t, but ultimately it is the journey that defines it, that becomes the failsafe of meaning and drive.

We are never truly satisfied because we never truly want to die. We are stubborn, stupid creatures that would spit in the face of death if we had no other choice.

It is so obvious but it bears repeating, the death of someone draws us face to face with our own mortality. That it is fleeting and fragile against a universe so impossibly large for us to comprehend.

A sudden death hurls us into that chasm. It levels us all. When news broke of Kobe Bryant’s death, as well as that of his daughter Gianna and seven others on their way to a travel basketball game, the unconscious agenda of how life and time should unfold to us was shattered irrevocably by the hurricane of cruel chance and reality.

Vale Kobe Bryant, a basketball legend and a Lakers great

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. This isn’t what happens to someone like Kobe, to his daughter, to the other young kids and parents on that helicopter that crashed last Sunday morning.

The world isn’t supposed to work that way. Who would dare go so callously off script to skewer the hearts of so many people, let alone an entire city, and most tragically, the families of those most affected by it.

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The passing of one so famous, so intrinsically linked to the lives of basketball fans across the globe for two decades makes this a collective wounding.

And yet at a more intimate level is a father and daughter, with other parents and kids, doing what so many have done before.

Fostering growth, putting your children first, wanting to see them succeed on their own terms, but more importantly, growing to be better people.

And a man who wanted to do all he could in his life with a focus that spawned an entire business. I can look up to that, even if I couldn’t hope to achieve that level.

Why does numbness hurt so much? I can’t even imagine how the Lakers and Kobe fans are feeling right now. Nor the NBA players whom so many have grown up idolising Bryant.

Nor players like LeBron, Kyrie Irving or Chris Paul who had close friendships with him, or the former players, current coaches, staff, front office guys, and fans across the world who saw him as their constant.

We are left with the most striking, heartrending thing of all. Absence. Definitive and finite.

A door of stone forever shutting, where the promise of what could have been in a future so bright - that of Kobe’s various endeavours and Gianna’s first steps following her father into professional basketball - taken away.

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And it is a jealous thing for us, to be so distraught by this removal. An existence expired.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant drives past Indiana Pacers forward Paul George

Kobe Bryant finished his career in a manner befitting the Lakers great: lots of shots, lots of points. He died in 2020. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

Many writers with better knowledge and understanding of Kobe, basketball and the culture of it woven through so much of not just American society but international have over the last few days done a tremendous job of helping people process this dark cloud that has descended.

Much better than I could have done. The outpouring of emotion and love and compassion at this shared loss is astounding. As I’ve seen multiple times, the pain in Los Angeles is singular and something that can’t quite be described.

What Kobe meant to that city and those people can only truly be grasped by those in it.

For me, my thoughts return to Monday morning, waking up to the news in Melbourne. A surreal scroll through my Twitter feed to see the metamorphosis of it in reverse.

My thoughts racing into conflicting tangents - should I be this shocked? What about the other people who died? Why is this so acute? Am I wrong to be already attempting to put it into context?

What about his off-court issues? Is that too soon? Why am I even thinking so much about something so devastating? Was I like this during the height of the continuing bushfires ravaging Australia? The confusion, desperation and sadness sweeping across social media like a tsunami. A brutal reminder of the gift of life.

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What twists so strangely is that Kobe’s legacy was already at mythical levels the moment he retired. He is one of the greatest players in NBA history, his work ethic and skills passed into folklore before he was in the last phase of his career.

He was the story, the player. A bridge between two eras of the league and yet wholly singular to be his own era.

The 81-point game. The free throws after tearing his achilles. The three-peat. The 60 point farewell. All those shots. He was relentless as a player, to a fault, some might say. But then, the results speak for itself.

His place among the greats already assured. All that was left was to see it morph over the decades, see him at the games, at his daughter’s games, at practice, with young players coming through, at book launches and film premieres.

At his campus and designing new shoes, new apparel, new ways to dominate and be the absolute best he could be. That’s how it was supposed to be

Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant during NBA finals between Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers

Vale Kobe Bryant. (Tolga Adanali/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Now though, it is drowned in grief and loss. A capsule to the time before, forced upon us in a way we couldn’t have fathomed.

Our minds are unable to process this terrible intrusion. We are exposed to being so very human, to have sadness sweep us up. I kept thinking, we push this away because we don’t see people such as Kobe as ‘normal’, existing on our plane.

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They are above and beyond. Something to hold onto when the world becomes so fractured and toxic - as is often the case these days. Athletes and artists, music, film, sport, ballet, musicals.

These help us to digest and reflect our world, and to escape it as well, to give us a chance to recalibrate and settle so we can go back out there and face it and give ourselves an opportunity to find our own purpose amidst the stardust.

Kobe found purpose in his life, in basketball and becoming a father, and through him, so many found a reflection of their purpose and meaning. He was worth it to them, to his fans and admirers.

We are bound to this life only momentarily and a simple recognition of this fate opens us to how we can live as best we can. We don’t have to win multiple NBA titles to validate our lives, but we have to live it, even when the world is dark and full of peril.

For, ultimately, all you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you. Kobe led by example.