Kobe Bryant, his daughter, and several others were tragically killed in a helicopter accident last week. Normally, I would have started that sentence with a hook like, “unless you have been living in a cave or under a rock…” but I truly believe there is nowhere you could have been and not heard about his death, and that is exactly the subject of this post.
I teach in an inner-city school in a state obsessed with basketball. It suffices to say you would expect the students at my school to know who Kobe was, but we do have recent immigrants that attend our school, too. These English language learners that culturally don’t have much in common with the other students other than socio-economic status. These were the only students I suspected wouldn’t be aware of the incident, or its significance. However, to my surprise when CNN’s student news played the package on Kobe these students were already aware and had a lot to contribute to the conversation.
This shouldn’t surprise me. Kobe was a true global citizen. It was when I found this out that I stopped seeing Kobe as just a basketball player.
Kobe wasn’t the first basketball player to come out of high school, but he became the prototype. This is back when skipping college or leaving early was still taboo, so I remember being in college thinking that I was the intellectual superior to these kinds of athletes. Then…I watched a postgame interview with Kobe Bryant in which he answered questions in three different languages. English obviously, but also Spanish and Italian. I was shocked. I didn’t know he could speak one other language let alone three. I immediately started googling and apparently, he’s fluent or conversational in about 5 or 6 languages, with his Italian being virtually native quality from his time there as a child.
Kobe Bryant also had a love for soccer. No doubt something else he picked up from his childhood in Italy. He could often be seen at soccer matches around the world. There is no shortage of pictures and videos of him rubbing elbows with elite footballers. Kobe is reportedly not a bad soccer player himself.
RIP LEGEND 😭🇺🇸🙏🏽… pic.twitter.com/kEQ99cRohO
— Kylian Mbappé (@KMbappe) January 26, 2020
But even in countries where he can’t speak the language or relate through soccer, Kobe’s presence was strong. Kobe is one of the most popular athletes ever in China where he was known as “Little Flying Warrior.” He reportedly would draw mobs of fans on every visit. The Chinese fans admired his game obviously but also his legendary work ethic.
Kobe’s appeal even appears to extend to countries where basketball isn’t popular. Upon his death, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai was lit up in tribute to Kobe and his daughter Gigi.
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, honoring the memory of Kobe and Gigi Bryant. pic.twitter.com/kKyILPLdmq
— Yoni (@OriginalYoni) February 2, 2020
Why does all of this matter? Because Kobe was/is the future. We are now trying to raise kids to be global citizens, speak multiple languages, have diverse hobbies and friends… things that Kobe Bryant has been doing for decades. If I was trying to create a person perfectly suited to survive in a changing and increasingly global world, I couldn’t do any better than Kobe Bryant. When he died, we didn’t just lose a great basketball player we lost a global icon and the blueprint of where the world was going.
Kobe came at a time when the NBA was trying to grow the influence of basketball worldwide. One could argue that basketball has taken the number 2 spot behind soccer worldwide, and it largely has Kobe to thank for that.
There is nobody else like him. Hopefully, no other superstar athletes or celebrities die anytime soon, but if and when they do, you will see how different the period of mourning is for them vs the way it was for Kobe, and that’s okay it’s not a contest… but we should realize that Kobe’s basketball talent isn’t the only reason he was admired.