I could hardly believe the news this weekend: Kobe Bryant, the LA Lakers basketball superstar, had died in a helicopter accident near Los Angeles. Eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, also perished in the crash.
How could a champion like Kobe, so vibrant and full of life, suddenly leave us?
Kobe Bryant was among the very best to play in the NBA. He played 20 seasons with the LA Lakers, won 5 championship rings and finished with 33,643 career points. At 41 years old, he was a living and breathing legend that even other NBA stars were star-struck by.
He even picked his own nickname, “Black Mamba,” after the fastest lethal snake in the world — and passed it on to his daughter Gianna, a budding basketball star, whom he called “Mambacita.”
The truth is, the vast majority of us didn’t know Kobe personally. Maybe we went to one of his games, but that was the extent of our relationship with him. Yet his death somehow has touched millions of Americans deeply. I believe it’s because it suddenly jolted us to the reality that life is not fair.
Why are people like Kobe and his daughter and the other passengers aboard that fateful flight taken while others will wake up tomorrow to face a new day?
There are no easy explanations, but here are three things we should keep in mind as we reflect on Kobe’s passing:
1. Life Is Precious
I have a smartwatch. Periodically, I will get a message on it that simply says, “Breathe.” Funny thing is, I was breathing already, but it’s reminding me of something that I should never take for granted.
Every day is a gift. Every single heartbeat and every breath you take is a blessing. Don’t take it for granted. And don’t take your health or your family for granted either.
The Bible reminds us, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NLT).
Kobe was a very successful man with many beautiful things, but I am certain he would have traded it all for one more precious day of life. He was not given that choice.
2. Don’t Ask ‘Why?’ — Ask ‘Who?’
I remember the day 11 years ago when my wife and I heard the devastating news that our son Christopher had died in an automobile accident on his way to work. It was as if all the air was sucked out of the room and time stood still. I felt as though if words could kill you, I could have died on the spot that day.
In my time of pain and darkness, I called out to God, and He was there for me. The Bible says He is “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Sometimes things happen in life that are unfair, and we will never get a satisfying answer for why they happened. At times such as these, I have learned that the right question to ask is not “Why?” but “Who?” Who do you turn to at a time like this?
You turn to God and ask Him for the strength you need to go on another day. And you cry and mourn.
The Bible says, “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 NLT). Many people wept with us when our son Christopher died. Right now, Kobe’s family needs support and love.
We need to remember to pray for Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, and his children, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. Kobe is also survived by his father Joe and his mother Pam. I cannot imagine the devastation they are all feeling over the loss of both Kobe and Gianna. We must also remember to pray for the families of the seven others who died as well. Their names are:
● John Altobelli, 56, Orange Coast College head baseball coach
● Kerri Altobelli, John’s wife
● Alyssa Altobelli, John and Kerri’s daughter, who was Gianna’s basketball teammate
● Sarah Chester
● Payton Chester, Sarah’s daughter and another basketball teammate
● Christina Mauser, girls basketball coach at Mamba Sports Academy
● Ara Zobayan, pilot
3. We Must Prepare
Death isn’t a respecter of people. It doesn’t care if you are rich or poor; religious or not; famous, infamous or unknown; or even the great Kobe Bryant, who had vast resources and money at his disposal. It knocks at every door, and sadly one day it will knock at your door and mine.
But death is not the end. The Bible talks about an afterlife — a concept even many people who are nonreligious believe in. Jesus spoke about it.
He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).
It’s because of this hope of eternity that followers of Jesus do not “grieve like people who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). If we believe in and follow Jesus, we can rest assured that death will not get the final word but we will be in Heaven with Him.
Greg Laurie is the pastor and founder of the Harvest churches in California and Hawaii and of Harvest Crusades. He is an evangelist and a best-selling author. His books include “Hope for Hurting Hearts” and “Johnny Cash: The Redemption of an American Icon.”