The death of Kobe Bryant and the urgency of legacy

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The death of Kobe Bryant and the urgency of legacy

January 26, 2020 - Jim Denison, PhD

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, puts up a shot as Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye during the second half of their NBA basketball game on Feb. 17, 2012, in Los Angeles.

The death of Kobe Bryant and the urgency of legacy

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, right, puts up a shot as Phoenix Suns center Channing Frye during the second half of their NBA basketball game on Feb. 17, 2012, in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant was the top basketball player in America in high school. He became the youngest player in NBA history when he was drafted into the league. He soon led the Los Angeles Lakers to three consecutive NBA championships. He won two more titles in 2009 and 2010, earning the Finals MVP Award both times.

Over his career, Bryant was named to the All-Star team eighteen times. His four All-Star MVP Awards are tied with Bob Pettit for the most in league history. He also won gold medals in 2008 and 2012 as a member of the US Olympic basketball team. 

Bryant was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in 2008 and is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time. 

On January 26, he died alongside his thirteen-year-old daughter Gianna in a helicopter crash.

Kobe Bryant was forty-one years old. 

Basketball and an Academy Award 

LeBron James, the player considered by many to be the greatest in the NBA today, passed Bryant on Saturday for third place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James inscribed his sneakers with references to Bryant before the game and told reporters, “I’m happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant. One of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play.” 

While Bryant was a superstar on the court, he experienced controversy off it. He was accused of sexual assault in 2003; the criminal case was dropped the next year, but Bryant still issued an apology. He stated that he considered the encounter to be consensual but admitted that the woman “did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.” 

After retirement, Bryant won an Academy Award in 2018 for the animated short film, “Dear Basketball.” He also created a children’s book series inspired by his love for Harry Potter; it became a New York Times bestseller. 

Kobe Bryant’s remarkable achievements form a legacy in sports and culture that will long be remembered. His life and untimely death point to three biblical priorities worth considering today. 

One: Live in the moment, for the moment is all we have. 

Kobe Bryant was one of the fiercest competitors the basketball world has ever seen. His offseason training regimen—two hours of running, two hours of shooting, and two hours of weights and cardio—was the stuff of legend. His commitment to physical excellence was astounding. That’s because he knew that he was one injury away from the end of his career and chose to maximize every season and game. 

In the same way, God’s word calls us to choose excellence with every thought (Philippians 4:8) and action (Colossians 3:23). We are to refuse temptation (1 Corinthians 6:18) and live every day in complete surrender to our Lord (Romans 12:1–2). 

Oswald Chambers’ life motto should be ours: “My utmost for his highest.” Every day. 

Two: Choose character, for it defines our life and legacy. 

Every biography of Kobe Bryant I read today included a reference to the sexual assault accusation made against him seventeen years ago. By contrast, his encouraging video promising to pray for a fan’s mother in her fight against cancer impacted her family greatly. 

People remember what we do, but they are more impressed by the reason we do what we do. When we choose integrity, others see our commitment and are drawn to the Lord we serve (Matthew 5:16). When we fail in our personal lives, others question the reality and relevance of our faith. 

To quote Oswald Chambers again: “The true expression of Christian character is not in good-doing but in God-likeness.” 

Three: Be prepared to meet God today, for you may meet God today. 

Kobe Bryant was a world-class athlete who continued his commitment to physical health after retiring in 2016. He went to the gym every morning at 4 a.m. to work out. He kept himself in remarkable condition and seemed to have decades of life ahead. 

His shocking death at such a young age shows that mortality is a fact for every one of us. The biblical reminder is worth remembering every day: “You do not know what tomorrow will bring” (James 4:14). 

It is a popular mistake to claim that we receive eternal life when we die. The fact is, every human will spend eternity somewhere—either with God in heaven or separated from him in hell. When we trust in Christ as our Lord, we receive eternal life in that moment (John 3:16). But while death cannot end our life with God, it obviously ends our life on earth. 

The key to being ready for death is to be ready every day to meet it. To quote Oswald Chambers once more: “The remarkable thing about God is that when you fear God, you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.” 

Praying and remembering 

Let’s pray for Vanessa Bryant and her surviving three daughters, asking God for the grace and peace only he can give. Let’s remember the life and achievements of Kobe Bryant with gratitude for his passion for excellence. 

And let’s learn from his death to live in this moment with character, ready every day to step from death into life. 

I do not know that you or I will meet God today. But I don’t know that we won’t.

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