By now, most people have heard of the deaths of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and the seven other people in a tragic helicopter accident.
As the news was unveiled, the comment I most read on social media and heard in conversations was, “I didn’t know he was Catholic.” Those who followed Bryant more closely throughout his career may be more knowledgeable about this fact — namely, how he turned to his faith and a priest during a difficult time in his life.
In the hours and days that followed the crash, the sadness of the event was paired with the beautiful witness of those who testified to his Catholic faith, sharing stories of seeing him at Sunday and weekday Masses at parishes in the Orange County area. Maybe it stems from the fact that Catholic celebrities who truly seem to be striving to live the Faith are few and far between. But even so, there was a true desire to champion our brother in Christ.
And while we can’t know Bryant’s heart, a number of people on social media shared that they saw him at Mass at a Catholic Church the morning of the accident. It seems that he had his priorities in the right place.
With this in mind, as I was reading through a number of articles following his death, I was impressed by one aspect that seemed to define Bryant’s life: He fought for his family.
In 2003, as many of the media reports following his death explained, Bryant was arrested after being accused of raping a woman in his hotel room. The charges were eventually dropped after he admitted to having sex with the woman but adamantly believed that it had been consensual. All that aside, the incident was hard on his career — and probably even harder on his marriage, for he had only been married to his wife, Vanessa, for about two years. In 2011, Vanessa filed for a divorce.
Yet, it seemed that Bryant did not give up, and after a couple more years, they reconciled. Maybe it was his Catholic faith that instilled in him that marriage was for life. Maybe he knew that it was the best way forward for his children. Whatever convinced his heart to pursue healing and forgiveness with his wife, their story is one we hear too infrequently, as divorce statistics show over and over again.
In the same way, Bryant prioritized his time with his kids. While on Twitter, I stumbled upon a 2018 interview with Bryant where he discussed why he began traveling via helicopter on a regular basis. The short answer: to spend every possible moment with his kids.
“Traffic started getting really bad,” Bryant said in the interview. “I was sitting in traffic and I wound up missing a school play. This thing just kept mounting. I had to figure out a way how I can still train and focus on the craft, but still not compromise family time.
“That’s when I looked into helicopters, and being able to get down and back (from the arena) in 15 minutes,” Bryant went on to say. “And so my routine was always the same: weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, anything I needed to do, fly back, get back in carpool line, pick the kids up. And my wife was like, ‘Listen, I can pick them up.’ And I was like, ‘No, no, no. I want to do that.’ Because you have road trips and times where you are not able to see your kids, so every time I get to see them and spend time with them, even if its 20 min in the car, I want that.”
It’s not often you hear a parent explaining their eagerness to experience the monotonous daily tasks of family life. It’s not often you hear of a father fighting for his family with such determination.
As sad as the entire event is, I can’t help but rejoice in the witness Bryant left behind. Yes, many will focus on his impressive career as one of the greatest athletes of all time. But above all, it seems that he was a husband and father who strove to live out the Faith. And people noticed. And that is worth celebrating.
Ava Lalor is assistant editor for Our Sunday Visitor.