I want to preface this by saying that I am not and have never really been a basketball fan. I do, however, live in culture; live among girls and boys who scream at their television sets and wear their hearts on their sleeves each time their team enters the stadium. What I am a fan of is hard work and legacies. And though I never followed his career, I know that that is what Kobe Bryant is all about.
When I read Kobe’s love letter to basketball announcing his retirement from the NBA, my heart broke. If you can get a non-enthusiast to notice your absence and be saddened by it, that means you mattered. That means you got the whole world to invest in you. That means you were really and truly great. In his letter, he detailed his love for the game and how it began when he was just a six-year-old kid, shooting socks into garbage cans.
He wrote: “You asked for my hustle, I gave you my heart.”
He wrote: “I did everything for you because that’s what you do when someone makes you feel as alive as you’ve made me feel.”
He wrote: “I’m ready to let you go… we have given each other all that we have.”
What we have now is a very human moment unfolding right before us. This is the narrative of the boy who got what he wanted yet couldn’t quite keep up with it. And while we seem to have an endless supply of literature and TED talks that tell us how to go and make the dream happen, nobody tells you what to do when the dream finally ends.
Anyone who has faced heartbreak — and that is, perhaps, everybody on this wonderful planet — knows what it is like to grapple with the weight of loss. You know the soul-crushing hurt that comes from letting go of a good thing. You know how hard it is to arrive at a point where the only option left is to give up what you love. So we watch Kobe take off the crown, head held high, heart shattered like a glass house, and we see ourselves somehow.
The more I get to know God, the more obvious it seems that he likes dealing with recurring themes. Death appears to be a holy favorite. And his idea of death is not always conventional. It is not always made of tangible things like a casket or a grave. In so many moments, death is simply this: surrender. God repeatedly asks us to bring our hearts to the altar whether we’re ready to or not. Death is not always a person. But it is always the closing of a story. It is always an ending.
I’m 27 now, finding my footing somewhere between young and old. There is still so much life waiting for me, I know that. But I am also no stranger to disillusionment, to watching life spiral into something so far from what I had hoped. My friends’ lives speak that same truth: the boy whose engagement recently ended, the girl who was told she can never have children, the dean’s lister who did not get into med school. Together we are a gallery of broken glass houses.
And so I’ve found that when the dream dies, we ought to bury it. We ought to mourn. We ought to ditch our desperation and humbly accept grief. There is something so beautiful about the man who can willingly lay his hopes and ambitions to rest. There is something true about the man who accepts that life is always going to be a series of small deaths. Maybe that is what makes Kobe’s letter so poignant and sad — because it is about a dreamer accepting the end and hanging his story on a coat rack called The Past. Acceptance can be the hardest reality.
But here is where grace finds us. Because there is another theme that God enjoys and it goes hand-in-hand with death: resurrection.
The whole earth knows this narrative by heart: winter then spring, to sleep then to wake, life ending and life beginning again and again. It is the masterpiece of a Father who believes in hope. It is the thing I go back to again and again every time I show up at the altar to bury my dreams. “These were good ones,” I tell him sadly. I do not think God will bring them back (though he could, I know he could). But I think, in the end, it is me he resurrects. When the glass house inside me shatters, he rebuilds it. God is where I find the strength to make peace with all my endings but he is also the hope that gives me courage to walk towards new beginnings.
They call Kobe’s departure from the NBA an end of an era. And while this may be true, what I know for sure is that it is not the end of him.
Perhaps we are all redemption stories just waiting to happen.