Today I woke up to the news of the death of one of the greatest athletes of all time, Kobe Bryant.
I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not the most active of basketball fans, with my association of the sport limited to game day highlights of my team OKC and the odd piece of wisdom or humour fed to me by Chuck and Shaq on Inside the NBA. There are few athletes that transcend the sports in which they play, that become more than just athletes and break down our allegiance to our teams. Admired, for an ability to break the boundaries of qualities which we didn't think normal human beings could possess, be it dedication, work ethic, self belief or an insane sense of competitiveness and self belief. In my lifetime, you could classify the likes of Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Zinedine Zidane and Kobe Bryant as some of the names amongst that list.
Amongst the chatter on whatsapp, I received a message from a friend who could be classified as not much of a sports aficionado.
"Why do people get so genuinely sad when athletes they don't know die?"
I didn't know the answer and I immediately felt some sort of embarrassment for myself feeling a little emotional. I replied with a feeble "I dunno man" but after taking my time to collect my thoughts and articulate my feelings, I would have replied with the below.
"I think there's something about athletes that help bring us to the highest of highs, that inspire 12 or 13 year old versions of ourselves to pick up a ball for the first time or end up supporting a particular team. We grow up following their journey's from their first game to the records they break. We cringe and get angry at the scandals they have and express relief at their redemption story. They teach us that ability alone doesn't make you extraordinary, and define and normalise the meaning of hard work, dedication, competitiveness and self belief. We watch them with sadness as they retire from the game but we watch with pride when they teach and educate the stars of tomorrow. We appreciate them for the memories that they've given us and most importantly, they remind us of that normal ordinary human being like us can achieve extraordinary things."
"Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged.You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling." Kobe Bryant, 2008.