Ratto: The vastness of Kobe Bryant, in all directions

Heroes soar and plummet with greater velocity than the rest of us

Ray Ratto
January 26, 2020 - 10:25 pm

Charlie Pierce of Esquire wrote the first Kobe Bryant obituary that noted the irony of him falling from the sky, and was among the first to note the difficulty of navigating Bryant's sexual assault case in Colorado while trying to absorb his greatness as an athlete and entrepreneur amid the horror of the helicopter crash that killed him, his daughter Gianna and seven other people.

In all, it was a tribute among hundreds to a flawed celebrity and undisputed athletic and cultural icon, an eloquent reminder that heroes soar and plummet with greater velocity than the rest of us, and a fist in the stomach to make sure we understand that tragedy diffuses and leavens it all. 

Bryant's basketball and show business careers speak their own truths, as does his life in full. His family is an even truer monument than his celebrity, of course, and eight families have been damaged, not just one.

But Bryant was the nexus, the central figure, because he moved the nation in a number of ways. The one thing he seemed incapable of inspiring was ambivalence. He drove and was driven, he inspired and intimidated, he entertained and excelled, and yes, there was the Denver thing to remind those so inclined to want to remember that he was capable at least one point of his life to take what wasn't his to take.

As we have learned, everyone pieces together someone else's life the way he or she chooses, and Bryant had long ago achieved mega-first-name-only status — which is to say that only he could wear the name so well that his surname seemed utterly superfluous. He achieved such status as a player and mover that he became a de facto front office figure with the Los Angeles Lakers, an award-winning film producer and a guiding light for athletes in other sports. To call him massive was to flatter the concept of mass.

And his death at the height of his reverence in the culture magnifies it all. Sunday, families were shattered and forced to reassemble themselves from the shards, Bryant's most of all. It is the part of the nightmare that makes this all the more painful, all the more evocative, and all the longer to absorb. Kobe Bryant's life was taller, wider, broader and more complicated than Sunday could fully explain, which is why this one will linger a lot longer than news cycles can contain.

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