President Donald Trump and his predecessor Barack Obama are certainly not on each other’s Christmas card lists. They disagree on virtually everything and antagonise each other openly in an unprecedented way. Relationships between a current and former president in the US are often guided by the principles of mutual respect, public deference and a worldview that seeks to advance shared interests. Such has not been seen between Trump and the man he took over from at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
However, on Sunday, 26th January 2020, the world saw both men for the first in a long while (if not for the first time ever) sharing the same views about a person and an event. In a tweet sent out at 10:56pm (West and Central African Time) on Sunday, Obama paid glowing tribute to basketball legend Kobe Bryant who passed on hours earlier in a helicopter crash in Calabasas- California Hillside. The crash claimed the lives of eight other persons including Bryant’s 13 year old daughter- Gianna.
The 44th US president acknowledged the deceased Kobe as a “legend on the court.” Hours later, Donald Trump, popular for communicating with the world through Twitter grabbed his phone and shared his sadness at the departure of the 4th all-time regular season highest scorer in the National Basketball League – NBL. In the tribute posted at around 12:54am, President Trump acknowledged Kobe as “one of the truly great basketball players of all time.”
It was refreshing seeing the two world leaders coming together to pay their respects to one of the truly remarkable human beings to have walked the earth. Kobe’s talents as a sportsman are universally acknowledged. No one finds himself on the NBA all-stars roster for eighteen seasons by luck. You do not win five championships by some wand of magic neither do you lead the scoring chart in two seasons except you really know your stuff. In 2008, Kobe was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the NBL season and continued putting in A-class performances season after season till he retired from the game he loved in 2016.
In writing about Kobe, several commentators have paid greater attention to his sporting accomplishments even as very little acknowledgement is made concerning his outstanding qualities as an individual, a husband, father, mentor and an inspiration to millions of people around the world.
To be clear, he was by no means a perfect man. The Guardian of UK reported that in July 2003, police in Eagle, Colorado arrested Kobe, then 24, after a sexual assault complaint. According to the report, “Bryant, who was married at the time, first denied that he’d had sex with the 19-year-old woman; then, he admitted to what he said was a consensual sexual encounter.” During the months of pre-trial discovery, Kobe’s accuser was smeared in the media- perhaps by individuals who idolised the player, and eventually, when she declined to testify, a judge dismissed the criminal charges.
In the end, the woman then filed a civil suit that was settled privately. Kobe had defended his involvement with his accuser by telling reporters that he had considered the act to be consensual. According to him, “although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.” Agreed that Kobe Bryant was diminished by the accusations, it did not detract from his status as one of the most influential personalities of his generation.
Writing for Mailonline on Monday, 27th January 2020, the host of Good Morning Britain, Piers Morgan spoke about Kobe’s hard work, winning mentality and quest for learning. One of the remarkable things about the deceased basketballer was his unwillingness to settle for less. He made hard work, working relentlessly, giving your all the centrepiece of his career. If Kobe would have to practise a throw a thousand times, you can be sure he would do it. He never saw hard work as pain but rather believed that to attain his dream of being the best; he must show greater commitment than the average lot. In his worldview, only that extra push, the extra minutes of practice, that extra hour in the gym, the extra time spent observing, learning and pushing the limits differentiate masters from also-rans.
A popular teaching in psychology tells us that everything starts in the mind- that belief is everything. Belief is what separates winners from those who live coldly and dourly, knowing neither defeat nor triumph. Kobe’s winning mentality was world class and he passed it on to his team mates. In his consideration, a winning mindset is the first ingredient in attaining success. Kobe was a winner- not just because he won a lot on the court- no. He reached the zenith of his career and remained there for so long because he knew what it takes to win: the mind.
One of the rarest things to find in our world is a man who remains inquisitive even after he has seen it all. Kobe was one such man. He never got tired of learning- learning to be better, learning from his mistakes and learning from his teammates- old and young. His ability to learn counts as one of the most important drivers of his success. He realized earlier on in his career that what worked yesterday may be useless today so he made a decision to continue to evolve, become better and outclass yesterday’s best output each day.
As mentioned earlier, Kobe was not just an elite athlete. He was a remarkable father who loved his four daughters and made them the centre of his universe. The fact that he died with his beloved Gianna offers an eloquent testimony about the kind of father he was. Beyond just providing for the material needs of those four beautiful girls, he also made a commitment to supporting, guiding and encouraging them to follow their dreams like he did his straight out of high school. Several images of him watching the game with his daughters, attending a major function with his wife and children and practising with them in his home have dominated the internet in the last few days. Kobe was a big star who never let stardom detract him from his responsibilities as a father.
In the world we live in today, loyalty is a scarce commodity. Athletes are hardly loyal to one team, families are abandoned at the slightest irritation and stars rush to the press to express their private frustration with a teammate, a coach or with management of their teams. Kobe was different. Beyond the ugly incident of 2003, Kobe stayed loyal to his wife (especially in the public), loved his family with the entirety of his being and think about this: how many top class athletes finish their careers in one team? The guy was different. He was rich but never made money his motivation. His love of the game was. His hunger to a better person drove him and even more importantly- his determination to inspire and support the next generation guided his resolve to stay true to the one game that made him an icon.
What can we learn from the life of this giant of a man? The lessons are many but the key ideas we must pick revolve around sacrifice, commitment to learning and being happy with what you do. Kobe knew earlier in life that greatness was his to attain. Thankfully, he never shirked that responsibility. The grief that greeted his demise two days ago tells us everything: greatness overrules ethnicity, skin colour, religious creed and all of those other countless artificial boundaries invented to demean our precious humanity.
Rest in peace Kobe.