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Kobe Bryant Soared Beyond Just Basketball: He Was Showing What Else Is Possible

By Shawn Windsor Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) This is a beautiful "must read" article from Shawn Windsor at the Dteroit Free Press. Windsor captures why the loss of Kobe Bryant is so devastating, saying, "He was showing us what was possible. This is what our most outsized athletes do: They carry the sense of immortality. And its loss is crushing. Because it reminds us of our own mortality."

Detroit Free Press

There were the winners, of course. The buzzer-beaters that pop up whenever you type his name in a search engine.

There was the 81-point game and the MVP and the endless All-Star selections, not to mention the championships.

There are the stories of Kobe Bryant's competitiveness, his relentless will, his workout routine, his tolerance of physical pain, and his inquisitiveness about ... well, everything. He won an Oscar for producing an animated short film, for goodness' sake, and he championed women's sports like few iconic male athletes before him.

His off-court legacy was complicated, certainly. He had been charged, with sexual assault in 2003. Those charges were dropped the following year. His on-court legacy was complicated, too, especially his beef with his Hall of Fame Lakers teammate, Shaquille O'Neal, which led to their infamous split, and possibly derailed the chance of future titles.

He played with the heat of a blast furnace. At times, he struggled to find balance in a game that demands five players in concert but often rewards a singular, comet-like force.

He talked about his search for that balance later in life.

"My career -- like other things in life -- was never perfect," he told The New York Times in an interview about the documentary he produced, "Dear Basketball." "There's beauty in those imperfections, and the last thing I wanted to do was create a film where all the lines were perfect, and all the coloring was perfect."

All of that matters as we remember Bryant.

But that's not fundamentally why we are mourning him today after news broke that he was killed -- along with daughter Gianna and seven other people -- in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles on Sunday.

Bryant didn't just transcend basketball. He freed us from the limitations of the human body. He was beautiful to watch. A balletic presence no matter the pressure or expectation.

And though he might not have been an absolute original in his on-court style -- he famously studied and mimicked Michael Jordan's repertoire -- he played with a grace and fluidity even Jordan didn't possess.

Like Jordan, Bryant stood apart inside a space stuffed with spectacular athleticism. Like Jordan, he showed fearlessness in the tensest of moments. To summon calm in the face of pressure is part of his legend. That is why we watched.

But in part, too, because when he leaped toward the rim, when he contorted himself midair, when he stopped in an instant, pirouetted in one direction as the defender flailed in another, when he rose up in flawless balance, shoulders always square to the basket, he was showing us a form of physical perfection.

He was showing us what was possible.

This is what our most outsized athletes do: They carry the sense of immortality. And its loss is crushing. Because it reminds us of our own mortality.

No wonder so many congregated Sunday afternoon at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. They wanted to pay respects, yes, but they also wanted to gather in acknowledgment that something gorgeous and true fell from the sky.

Something that liberated us.

Music can have a similar effect, and when we lose a musician, an innovator, an artist too young, we lose someone who gave us voice, who helped explain us to ourselves.

But losing a transcendent athlete still feels different. For they don't really walk among us. They glide. Or float. Or hover. Somewhere between the earth underfoot and the heavens.

We look up because we want to escape, if only for a moment. And because we don't know what's coming next.

In this way, they stretch our imagination.

Bryant did this like few others. All you had to do was watch his majestic stride, to see the spark jumping off his shaved head, to see his eyes, to know that they absorbed the world from a different view.

That vantage point is gone. Way too soon. Just when he was pivoting to a second act, determined to endeavor in new fields with the same ferocity.

Whether it was making movies or coaching his daughter or spreading the essence of what made him combine his otherworldly basketball talent with all of that outsized drive to succeed.

He called it the Mamba mentality. Or maybe we called it that and he adopted it. Whatever its origin, he didn't need the brand.

For in the end, he was simply Kobe. Walking on air for the rest of us.


Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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