As Kobe Bryant was contemplating retirement in 2016, a reporter asked an unexpected question: “What’s your relationship with death?”
Kobe didn’t hesitate with his answer. “It’s a comfortable one. It’s an understanding … you can’t have life without death. You can’t have light without the dark. So it’s an acceptance of that.”
Death came far too soon for the NBA superstar. And yet it came at a time when he seemed to have triumphed over mistakes in his past. He credited this turnaround to the strength found in his faith.
In a 2006 interview on his Quite Frankly TV show, journalist Stephen A. Smith asked Kobe Bryant what he learned after being accused of sexual assault – a case that was ultimately settled out of court. The NBA legend quickly replied: “God is great.”
Despite the accuser’s refusal to testify and the out-of-court settlement, Bryant’s reputation and marriage were badly damaged by the incident.
“Is it really that simple?” Smith replied.
“God is great,” Kobe responded again, “it doesn’t get much simpler than that.”
“Did you know that? I mean everyone knows that, but the way you know it now, did you know it before that incident took place?” Smith pressed him.
“You can know it all you want,” Kobe responded, “but until you have to pick up that cross that you can’t carry and He picks it up for you and carries you and the cross, then you know.”
Vanessa Bryant, who married the Lakers star in April 2001, stayed with her husband during that scandal, but the affair took its toll. Later she discovered multiple cases of adultery involving her husband. In 2011, Vanessa filed for divorce after 10 years of marriage citing “irreconcilable differences” due to the infidelity.
It was during this time that Kobe returned to the faith of his childhood. Kobe was raised as a Catholic Christian but had walked away from God. In the midst of their separation, Kobe and Vanessa sought counseling with a Catholic priest. In time, healing came and the couple reconciled.
In an interview on CBS This Morning, Pastor T.D. Jakes spoke of Bryant’s struggles and how he grew through them. “People like him have become the gladiators of our era – these players reach that height of celebrity status. I also think that his failures and flaws add to the affection of America. … We like people who are human enough to have flaws and hero enough to overcome them … and we watched him overcome them.”
Embracing His Faith
In time, Kobe and Vanessa had four children together. After their reconciliation, the entire family embraced their Catholic faith.
KCAL-TV in Los Angeles reported that Father Steve Sallot spoke with Kobe Bryant on Sunday morning when he visited his church in Newport Beach, California, to pray.
“I saw him yesterday before the 7 a.m. mass,” Sallot said. “We chatted for a couple of minutes, and then he moved on, and obviously, he was going to the airport.”
Sallot said Kobe and the rest of the Bryant family were frequent parishioners. “He was quite a man of faith.”
On this particular morning, Kobe did not stay for the 7 a.m. service. “We shook hands, and I saw that he had blessed himself because there was a little holy water on his forehead,” Sallot said. “So I knew that he’d gone into the chapel to pray and came out and blessed himself. And then we spoke for a minute, shook hands, and then off he went.”
After mass, Kobe and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, boarded that fateful helicopter and only moments later stepped into eternity.
Kobe Bryant was only 41 years old.
Fr. David Barnes, a chaplain at Boston University received a text from a friend who had seen Kobe at church that morning. He tweeted: “There can be nothing more consoling to those who mourn than to know that a loved one worshiped God just before his death because worshiping God is what heaven is.”
Life Is Too Short
His friend and fellow LA Laker star Shaquille O’Neil reflected on Kobe’s sudden passing. “A lot of times we take stuff for granted … the fact that we’re not going be able to joke at his Hall of Fame ceremony. Those are the things you can’t get back. … You never know. Life is too short.”
Like all of us, Kobe Bryant was a man with flaws. The Bible calls those flaws sin. But because he surrendered his life to God, this flawed man became a man of faith. As a result, Kobe began to give of himself – first to his wife and family, then to his community, and ultimately to the world.
Meditating on the fragile nature of life, the psalmist declares: “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 ESV).
The Apostle James declares: “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14 ESV).
Randy Shepherd and Jamie Johnson of Crossfire Ministry told WLOS-TV in Asheville of their encounter with Kobe at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. “And we were telling different guys about Crossfire basketball ministry, and Kobe was there,” Shepherd recalled.
“He was gracious. His bodyguard stepped out of the way. And I said Kobe, have you ever invited the Lord Jesus Christ to come into your life as your Lord and Savior? A question I’ve asked a lot of people from kids to the president, and he said, yes I’ve done that.”
As we reflect on the life and legacy of Kobe Bryant and his untimely passing, each of us living on this earth has the opportunity to make the same choice for faith that he made. People of faith have the comfort of knowing that because of his relationship with Jesus, Kobe Bryant is now at peace with the Lord forever.
I will ask you the same question posed to Kobe in London: Have you ever invited Jesus Christ to come into your life as your Lord and Savior?
God loves you so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay for your sins and to wash them all away. This is a free gift that He offers to you today. All you have to do is receive this gift of salvation by faith and begin your relationship with God.
Learn how you can receive God’s promise of eternal life by clicking the button below.
Dr. Craig von Buseck is Managing Editor of Inspiration.org.
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