Standing Outside the Fire
Updated: Feb 3
I'm in my basement watching the first game the Lakers have played since Kobe Bryant died, and it's intriguing.
Intriguing, because people whom I've heard shit-talking Lebron James ad-nauseum for the better part of the last decade have tears running down their cheeks. They're glued to the television as if it were church. They don't care about the rivalry or the Clippers or whatever bad blood it is that exists between Laker fans and Lebron James fans.
I didn't follow basketball- I don't. I absolutely, actually, cannot stand the sound of sneakers squeaking on wooden floors. In fact, I decided to write this because no matter how moving the content of the coverage is, I'll just never be able to sit through a basketball game that isn't on mute.
Once they stopped with the memorial and started the game, I began writing in my head.
Are we really all so self-absorbed and misdirected that the loss of the life of an athlete has the power to profoundly move us?
As I posted snapshots of what I was watching on my Facebook account, I thought about what it is that we- total strangers to everyone who perished on Sunday in that accident, just spectators hanging out in a basement in suburban Chicagoland- lost.
I think I came to the conclusion that when we lose someone who incarnates in this world as larger-than-life, it's not so much the loss of life we mourn as it is the extinguishing of a fire. In Kobe's case, as well as with Martin Luther King and John Lennon and Robin Williams, it's not that a human being- a celebrity- died. It's that their fire was put out and we're all standing around looking at each other and wondering: Who now will burn that brightly?
Who will bring peace?
Who will bring laughter?
Who will show us what it means to excel?
I think when we lose someone like Kobe Bryant, the reason it resonates among the masses is that we collectively feel the responsibility to carry on the energy of that person. They were infernos in comparison to our own mediocre flames...
When we lose someone like Kobe, it's not that his life mattered more than anyone else's. It's not that he was a hero- he played basketball for a living. He didn't die doing anything heroic or courageous, nothing that warrants a tome in history or an instant placement of stars that record an epic journey.
What he did do was light a bonfire with the spark he was given. He worked so hard, for so long, to make his fire as big as he could that God knows how many people felt it. I was never a basketball fan, but became a Kobe fan after reading Tim Grover's book about the mentality of the elite. We often think of elite as a privilege, but what about when elite status is obtained by someone through sheer force of will and impeccable work ethic? We can't ignore that. We can't deny the way that fire burns. We can't deny the fact that without a bonfire like Kobe Bryant, we're all left looking at each other and wondering who's going to pick up the slack.
Extraordinary people inspire us to be better human beings while at the same time convincing us that we can't be like them. I think, when we lose them, we're confronted with the question:
What if I did, what if I could- do whatever it takes to burn bigger and brighter?