Op-ed: Why Kobe’s Death Matters And What We Can All Learn from His Life

Robert Lewis, Jr.

The BASE joins millions around the world in mourning the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash. Kobe – among just a handful of superstars identified by first name only — died along with eight others, including his beloved 13-year old daughter, Gianna.

His death reverberated throughout the sports world and beyond, cutting across boundaries defined by geography and race, gender and generation. His fame was truly universal, his post-NBA career as a businessman and youth-sports champion just getting started.

His loss hit home for many reasons. For one, it reminded us of the power of sports to transform individual lives – and the power one individual can have to inspire countless others. 

For another, his death has been a reminder that it often takes a tragedy like this to brings folks together and embrace our common humanity. The outpouring of love for Kobe – elite ballplayer, devoted dad, entrepreneur, global icon – stands as a bulwark against the polarizing hatred that too often divides our country these days. What a lesson for us all to think about right now.

Another reason we mourn his loss: Kobe’s values lined up closely with our own.

As a player, Kobe gave no quarter on either end of the basketball floor, competing until the very last shot. From the day he was drafted as a raw teenager, he believed in “earning your spot.” While he may have been out-scored or out-rebounded in any given game, he was rarely out-worked or out-hustled.

The BASE teaches our student-athletes and coaches the same mindset on the baseball diamond, softball field, and basketball court:

Show up when you’re supposed to Lead by example

Play hard until the last pitch or whistle

Support your teammates

Respect your opponents

Learn the fundamentals, then apply them to life going forward

That’s the BASE Way. It was Kobe’s way, too.

His life was not a perfect one, but on that score, too, there is much for us to reflect upon.

Many of our student-athletes come from challenging backgrounds. Some have made poor choices that threatened to derail their young lives. However, if given a second chance, they show a resilience and work ethic that make everything we do rewarding.

Kobe died on his way to his daughter’s basketball game being held at the sports academy he founded. The girls scheduled to play that day could have been enrolled in our BASE HOOPZ program.

More broadly, as Kobe he grew into his role as father, he invested fully in the power of youth sports — girls’ and women’s basketball in particular. That passion of his was not lost on Gianna, who hoped to play college and pro ball herself.

Kobe was often asked by well-meaning fans if he and his wife, after having four girls, planned on having a son “to build on your legacy.”

“No,” Gianna would say, jumping in. “I got this.”

I got this.

That, too, is The BASE Way. Our student-athletes reflect that every day.

And so, while we mourn the deaths of Kobe and eight others, and celebrate his extraordinary legacy, let us also reflect on how and why he mattered to so many. And how and why the power of sports, in crossing so many boundaries in our society, reminds us that we are all in this game together.

 Robert Lewis Jr. is the founder and president of The BASE, a Boston non-profit in Egleston Square with a mission of shifting the national mindset about what it takes for urban youth to succeed.

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