January 25, 2021

Lessons From Kobe & the NBA: How to Overcome Adversity in a Year from Hell.

It has been a year since the tragic helicopter crash.

I mourn him and the relative innocence of 2019, which seems like a lifetime ago.

“Once you know what failure feels like, determination chases success.” ~ Kobe Bryant

Most people who know me, know that I am an NBA junkie. In my previous life as a salesman, I would frequently use adages to basketball when making a sale or training staff to sell.

“Michael Jordan was the best because he always worked on the fundamentals, not just because he could jump so high,” meaning, keep it simple.


“The ball can’t go in if it doesn’t get above the rim,” meaning, if you don’t ask for it, you have no chance of getting it.

On Christmas Day, NBA hoops were televised from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

There was no church to attend because they were closed due to a global pandemic.

So, I reflected and wrote instead.

The year started innocently enough with a normal schedule of games and the Lakers as favorites to win the title featuring LeBron James and Anthony Davis as two of the top five players teaming up together.

Then, on January 26th, the sports world shifted with the tragic death of Laker Legend, Kobe Bryant, and eight others in a helicopter crash on the way to a basketball tournament where he would have coached his daughter’s team. The tragedy had a ripple effect on all of Los Angeles and throughout the NBA. But the ripple also leaked into other sports, entertainment, and American culture.

For Kobe Bryant wasn’t just a great basketball player. He was a transcendent player who had a greater, global impact. He was an Oscar-winning producer. He was an active voice in support of the women’s empowerment movement. He was a widely known, self-proclaimed, “Girl daddy.” He was a fan of the UCONN women’s team, the WNBA, and coach of his daughters’ basketball team.

All those made him respected and even loved. But he meant much more to many of us because we grew up with him. He came to Los Angeles at 19 as a cocksure, arrogant, and different-thinking, budding superstar.

He skipped college but spoke several foreign languages.

He joined a group of NBA veterans who he irritated because acted like a star even though he wasn’t even a starter in his first year.

Over time, he would be like every child growing up. He would make mistakes and learn from them. And eventually, he overcame them to become an NBA champion through his hard work and perseverance. In a city that is known for Hollywood glitz and glamor, he had the charisma and charm that fit. But underneath the surface, we all knew that his hard work and passion are what made him a transcendent and five-time NBA champion who overcame adversity and embarrassing public personal challenges to find success.

We saw a flawed human being and retired athlete who had moved on to greatness, with humility through his experiences. We loved him even more because he was an imperfect human being who overcame adversity.

For eight years, my son had the same poster hung over his bed of Kobe grimacing, and attached was the quote, widely ascribed to Tim Tebow, but representative of Kobe as well: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

Also, in January, at the same time, President Trump was learning of a virus spreading quickly in China. On January 22, Trump told CNBC that the administration had the situation “totally under control.” Two days later, he praised Chinese President Xi Jinping over his country’s handling of the virus in a tweet.

Just five days after his passing, on February 1st, The Lakers faced the Portland Trailblazers. The game outcome was almost irrelevant. It was merely an event that served as a tribute to Kobe and a chance for his fans to celebrate and mourn him. They lost the game, but it hardly seemed to matter. Eventually, they would play for higher stakes.

In February, the virus spread, but we had no idea what was coming.

On March 9th, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz ended his press availability by touching all microphones in front of him as a gesture mocking the virus.

On March 11th, Gobert was tested positive for Coronavirus and the NBA announced that it was postponing the rest of the season.

This was the tipping point. In the next few days, all other major sports would eventually follow suit.

On March 13, the president declared a national emergency.

I was in Playa Del Carmen, MX. that day. I went scuba diving and had just decided to write my first book of essays called, Deep Dive.

Over the course of the next few months, the virus spread. It became a global pandemic. People were living in fear and panic. Social isolation was mandated. The United States became the hotbed for the spread of the virus. It became a political issue. The NBA stopped playing games and researched how to start again in a safe environment.

Some people refused to wear masks and mocked the virus. Thousands died from it. Yet, it continued to spread as some people continued to ignore the warnings from scientists. The president chastised politicians who discouraged public gatherings indoors while he held campaign rallies.

The NBA consulted scientists and on June 26th, they announced that they decided to resume their season in a “bubble” on  July 31st.

It was a resounding success. They implemented a rigorous testing program in a safe, protected environment. Not one single person in the bubble contracted coronavirus. Eventually, the Lakers won the championship on October 11th with LeBron James named as the MVP.

Amazingly enough, just 72 days later, on December 22nd, 2020 another NBA season would commence in empty arenas across the United States as the pandemic continued to get worse.

Now, millions of people have died due to the unnecessary spread of the global pandemic and we have dealt with the death of a global sports superstar before his time.

We have mourned and we have argued. We have lived in fear and been divided. We have seen how science has worked and how selfish people have failed to contain it.

We have seen how one league, the NBA, listened to science and tried to do its best to balance their need for commercial viability with the demands for the health and safety of all stakeholders—players, fans, workers, and owners.

We have learned and continue to learn. I am a dreamer and I continue to dream.

Here is what I learned about how to make dreams become a reality—in all the lost lives, fear and negativity, we can listen to the words of Kobe Bryant:

“Everything negative—pressure, challenges—is all an opportunity for me to rise.” ~ Kobe Bryant.

Rise, he did, and rise we shall…to overcome this crazy year.


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