There’s no other way to start this piece than with complete and utter disbelief.
I almost hesitate to call it sadness, only because the feeling that hangs over our heads is one of sadness, confusion, frustration, and profound shock.
Kobe Bryant, a legend and icon, one of the greatest athletes to ever live, has left this world way too soon in a tragic helicopter crash.
This all-time great spent so much of his career (at least in the media’s eyes) living in the shadow of a man 15 years older, whose career only briefly overlapped with his. Michael Jordan — the man regarded by man to be the greatest athlete to ever live — was winding down his career right when Kobe entered the NBA in 1997.
Because of Jordan’s otherworldly impact on the game, from the beginning, it was unfair to compare ANYONE to Jordan. The fact that Kobe was prominently in the conversation was, in a strange way, the highest compliment. Yet it also became the prism through which we all saw him. The two men, in many ways, so similar.
Two of the most competitive human beings to ever live.
Two extraordinarily gifted athletes that were so much more than just great athletes. Basketball gods with the highest possible basketball IQ players could ever possess. Students of the game. Geniuses with and without the ball.
It was this greatness that Kobe Bryant was measured against.
It was this greatness that Kobe Bryant aspired to.
It was this greatness, in his own unique and inimitable way, that we should remember Kobe Bryant by. And as we came to learn after his retirement, the greatness in which he lived his life, supported his family, lived with faith and loved others.
Little boys and little girls need heroes of all kinds to look up to. As a young boy growing up in basketball-obsessed New York, I had big hoops dreams. As I finished up my high school years, I saw an 18-year old kid enter the NBA and forever change the game. Making the All-Star team as a rookie and putting on a show at Madison Square Garden in the presence of many of the best to ever play the game.
Kobe Bryant was special from the very beginning. He combined his supreme athletic talent, basketball smarts and legendary drive to become one of the best ever. A beloved icon in Los Angeles, a hero in his native Philadelphia, and also overseas in Italy where he lived for seven years during his youth while his father played professional basketball.
Many of us were fortunate to see the rise of this prodigy into someone that transcended the game and left a remarkable legacy. Revered by players and many fans alike, he was the ultimate competitor. He wanted to win above everything else, and his ambition and drive secured many wins both as a Laker and in representing his country as an Olympian.
We live in a time of sports-talk radio and TV that let’s be honest, is sports-talk on steroids; where everyone needs to be relentlessly compared and measured and placed in buckets of top-5 this and “best ever” that. And this isn’t just limited to sports. It’s the world we live in. It’s why I felt it imperative to point out the endless comparisons to Michael Jordan.
This world of hyperbole and social media overload distorts things. Kobe Bean Bryant showed us night in and night out what greatness is. For those of us who witnessed his 81-point game, 5 championships, MVP awards and gold medals for the United States, we watched a man that perpetually played above the rim — and at the pinnacle of the game.
My wish for the legacy of one of the best basketball players to ever live is for us to appreciate and admire his greatness. He was also a dedicated father and humanitarian. We’re all so profoundly shocked because his life and accomplishments meant something. He handled himself with class, grace and epitomized what it means to compete and win at the highest level.
A true all-time great. Gone far too soon. He left us with his greatness — that we know what it looks like, so that we can appreciate it for all time to come.
This article first appeared on Medium. Get a FREE Coaching Call to Explore Your Emotional Intelligence, and Learn how to Achieve Your Biggest Goals! Check out my Amazon bestseller, The Value of You, which has helped tens of thousands of people develop the game plan for living their best life!