Column: Kobe Bryant’s death shook us because it shows how swiftly a life can end

Kobe Bryant’s death shook us.

It’s what happens when people larger than life — complete with their flaws and their failings — die suddenly.


Too young. Too unexpected.

Too much.


The news of a helicopter crash in California broke Sunday on Twitter, and everyone saw a name: Kobe. Kobe killed.

And it couldn’t be right. Had to be a hoax. He was 41. An international star, familiar enough to be known by just one name, like Diana, Marilyn, Bowie. When they died, we heard, “My God, Bowie’s dead” and “Oh, Diana, such a loss” and “No, not Marilyn.”

So it was Sunday.

“Kobe can’t be dead.”

“No, no, say this Kobe news isn’t real.”

But it was. And it got worse, the tragedy evolving in real time on social media as we learned his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was on board, along with seven others. No survivors.

It shook us, whether we were fans of Kobe or not, because it showed how quickly a life can end. Doesn’t matter if you’re rich, loved, hated. Doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad or anywhere in between.

It’s like a circuit breaker trips and the lights go out and that’s the end. It happens around us every day — tragic accidents, sudden deaths — but they come and go quietly, so much we might not notice. Or maybe we just hear about it in a short news story or a Facebook post. Maybe we nod our heads and say, “What a shame” and move on.


Regular people die. It happens.

But athletes, rock stars, Hollywood legends — we hoist them high, their narratives become enmeshed in our own. And when a star’s narrative is cut short, it leaves us a loose thread. A part of us unravels.

We’re reminded no one is immune to death — not them, and certainly not us. Giants can die. That’s a gut punch. What hope does that leave for the rest of us?

Kobe was, without question, one of the best basketball players in NBA history, up there, or possibly above, other one-name greats like Michael, Magic and LeBron.

After retiring, the former Los Angeles Lakers five-time champion seemed to have a full life ahead with film, sports and family. He became an advocate for women’s sports. In 2018, he won an Oscar for an animated short based on a poem he wrote.

A Colorado sexual assault case in 2003 drove many away from Kobe. A 19-year-old woman accused him of rape, and he was arrested. He admitted having sex with the woman, and she later asked prosecutors to drop the case. He settled a civil suit with the woman but never admitted guilt.


Many of us never paid enough attention to wade into the “Kobe as hero” vs. “Kobe as alleged rapist” debate. We just knew his place in popular culture, the good and the bad, and that was enough to make us feel Sunday’s loss. To ache for this figure’s family and the void left by a person etched into our history.

It shook us. It forced us to confront our own timelines. And it made us acknowledge, painfully and emotionally, how quickly and shockingly they can come to an end.