LOS ANGELES -- For those who loved, knew, or idolized him, Kobe Bryant’s memorial was beautiful, cathartic, funny, and moving. It was also a little strange, seeing people usually kept at an arm’s distance from the public openly grieving a loved one. The vulnerability on stage at Staples Center on 2/24 was the most arresting aspect of the farewell to Kobe. Seeing Michael Jordan freely weep as he talked about his “little brother.” Or witnessing Vanessa Bryant sharing deeply personal stories about her husband to a global audience. It all still feels a little detached from reality as the people who knew Kobe best tried to quantify the impact he had within his world.
Legacy is what everyone wants to talk about when it comes to Bryant. What did he mean to society? How impactful would his second act have been? How do you reconcile the 2003 sexual assault allegations with the tangible connections he made to wide swaths of people? Ever since the tragedy that took the lives of Kobe, his daughter Gianna, and seven others, pretty much everyone who has written or spoken about Kobe has tried to wrap their minds around his massive life, which undeniably resonated with so many different groups of people.
Seeing the power of the individuals gathered in the room to celebrate Kobe and Gianna’s life, it’s apparent that Kobe’s legacy isn’t a closed book. His physical presence may be gone, but the ways in which he inspired the people around him is perhaps being felt stronger than ever before, and that specific energy can genuinely be used to help better lives moving forward.
The prevailing sentiment of Bryant’s memorial was one of collectivism. Of support. Of being together and helping to lift up those who, as Jordan put it, felt a little bit of themselves die alongside Kobe. But Bryant’s loss doesn’t necessarily have to be an ending. It can also serve as a catalyst. Whether or not you believe in redemption arcs or are comfortable with the lionization of athletes, the passing of Kobe and Gianna has unified so many disparate communities, and the best way for those who were touched by Bryant to pay their respects moving forward will be to ensure his passing doesn’t mean the end of his work.
Something Bryant’s death has made me think about is how we harness energy in moments like this one. What can society do with such an immense amount of goodwill and an outpouring of emotion? The truth is, I find myself caring less about ceremony and much more about action. Things like naming the All-Star Game MVP after Kobe or conversations about changing the NBA logo may help many people grieve and come to terms with Bryant’s death. Those things have value, but I also find them fleeting.
To me, the best way for those who cared about Bryant to pay tribute to him will be through picking up where he left off. The people who spoke at Staples on Monday, the NBA, and Kobe’s various business partners all have the influence and means to continue his work, like his philanthropic efforts with the Make-A-Wish Foundation or involvement in youth sports, particularly with young women. It’s unfair to expect everyone who was around Kobe—especially as they grieve—to approach his pursuits with the same zeal as he did. And it may be crass or uncomfortable to say right now, but one day the tributes may stop. One day the murals may be painted over. And if and when those days come, the best way to make sure Bryant endures will be to act the way he intended to act before his life was taken from him.
If Kobe was famous for being tireless, then the truest way to honor his memory is to keep pushing the ball he began rolling down the hill. If you found yourself truly, deeply moved or shaken by his death, then you too can keep Bryant’s spirit alive, even if it’s as something simple as donating to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation. I would urge everyone who felt impacted by Kobe—particularly those closest to him—to try to stir in others what Kobe stirred in them. That’s the true hallmark of legacy, and that’s what makes this moment a pivotal one for those who want Bryant’s name to carry the same weight for generations to come.
Kobe Bryant once said “the most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.” In a similar vein, I would say the most important thing Kobe could have done is inspire people to such a degree they feel compelled to do great things for his memory in his absence. Those who loved Bryant the most now have an opportunity to make something beautiful out of his tragedy.