January 31, 2020

Reflection / Sean Gallagher

Kobe Bryant showed determination to be great in basketball and family life

Sean GallagherI’ve been a basketball fan since I was in grade school. Maybe it just comes with being a Hoosier.

So, I was saddened on Jan. 26 when the news began to spread that Kobe Bryant, an all-time National Basketball Association (NBA) great, had died at age 41 in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles.

I had admired Bryant’s tremendous athletic skills and dogged determination to give his all in every game throughout his 20-year career, even though I can’t say I was one of his fans. After all, he was a key member of the Los Angeles Lakers team that defeated my beloved Indiana Pacers in the NBA Finals in 2000.

Those from across the sports world and beyond who paid tribute to Bryant after his death focused on how he was one of the greatest basketball players of all time and an unparalleled ambassador for the game. His dedication to his wife and family were also mentioned.

But I remembered in the back of my mind that he had made some serious mistakes earlier in life. In 2003, he was arrested for sexual assault. While he denied the crime and the charges were eventually dropped, he did admit to being unfaithful to his wife, Vanessa.

Perhaps those reacting to Bryant’s death simply didn’t want to say anything ill of the dead.

A Jan. 26 Catholic News Agency article (quoting a 2015 interview with Bryant published by GQ), however, explained how his lifelong Catholic faith helped him overcome his mistakes and renew his marriage and family life, even after Vanessa filed for divorce in 2011.

When that happened, Bryant realized that he needed to apply the determination he used to be the best in basketball to his vocation as a husband and father. “How could I do that in my professional life if I wasn’t like that in my personal life, when it affects my kids? It wouldn’t make any sense.”

Vanessa dropped her divorce petition in 2013, and the couple went on to have two more daughters in addition to the two daughters with which they were blessed earlier in their marriage.

Bryant was being a dedicated father on the day of his death, going with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna to a basketball game for her team that he coached. She and seven other people also died in the helicopter crash.

Learning about how much Bryant loved his daughter and sought to pass on the game he loved to her made their passing all the more poignant for me. Just the day before, I helped coach my 12-year-old son Victor’s Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball team from Lumen Christi Catholic School in Indianapolis.

Being a CYO coach has helped me be a better father for Victor and to have a real love for all of his teammates. It’s also given me a greater knowledge and appreciation for the game over the three seasons that I’ve helped coach the team.

Now, I can look at highlights from Bryant’s career with more awe at his accomplishments on the court.

My Catholic faith, however, leads me to value the determination he showed off the court, driven by God’s grace and mercy, to make up for his mistakes.

Kobe Bryant wasn’t a perfect husband and father. I’m not either. I know that all too well every day. None of us Catholic husbands and fathers are. Like Bryant, though, we, too, can rise up from our falls with the help of God to be the husbands and fathers he’s called us to be.

May our heavenly Father give Bryant and Gianna rest. And may he hold up his surviving family through his legacy of applying his God-given determination both to his life on the court and, more importantly, his home.

(Sean Gallagher is a reporter for The Criterion.)

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