Kobe Bryant and the fragility of life

Mourning his death, and remembering his legacy

January 28, 2020

Longtime journalist Wright Thompson has written that every truly great sports icon teaches the same complicated lesson. From Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Michael Jordan, and others, “we learn the benefits and toll of a man constructing himself into the perfect machine to manage the first 40 years of his life, while creating a version of himself completely unsuited for the next 40. That’s a universal truth,” Thompson writes, “The tools required to gain greatness often prevent someone from enjoying it.”[1]

This reality exists in those who achieve the highest levels of success and fame in business, government, and entertainment. But sport is unique in that its stars can become household names as teenagers, peak before the age of 30, and be totally forgotten by 40. It is life compressed, and the athlete must figure out how to live a second life, one with nearly opposite skills, threats, and measures of success.

But every now and then, an exception emerges: A star athlete overcomes profound adversity or personal failure (or both) to find success both on the field and long after the lights have been turned off. On rare occasions, one of the all-time greats manages the transition. Kobe Bryant, who died Saturday with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash, was a wonderful, unexpected exception. 

The relentless competitor

Kobe Bryant’s on-court reputation was simple: He was a relentless competitor, a winner. 

Bryant’s stats are currently reminding the world of his greatness, but his career was less about stats and more about moments. He won the dunk contest just a few months after his 18th birthday. He scored 33 points against Michael Jordan that same year. When his peers were still in college, his alley-oop to Shaq sealed the NBA Finals. He scored 81 against Toronto. And then there were his dunks. One made Todd MacCullough famous. Steve Nash couldn’t get out of the way fast enough. He basically baptized Dwight Howard. Even at 39 years old, Kobe put 7-foot Clint Capela on a poster. In his final game, Bryant dropped 60, and even the NFL withheld breaking news because “Kobe deserved his night, and there was no reason for [a] trade to be announced on his night.”

What I loved most was that Bryant played every game as if it was Game Seven of the NBA Finals. In fact, he even practiced like it. One teammate recalled the time Bryant broke his shooting wrist in a preseason game.

I am ashamed to say that I was excited the day after his injury because I knew that there was no way that No. 8 would be the first to practice, if he would even be there at all. As I walked through the training room, I became stricken with fear when I heard a ball bouncing. No, no, it couldn’t be! Yes, it could. Kobe was already in a full sweat with a cast on his right arm, dribbling and shooting with his left.

Kobe’s relentless drive created a complicated persona. He missed more shot attempts than anyone in basketball history. He often ridiculed his teammates. He admitted to an affair. But Bryant seemed to turn his life around, and he became a role-model husband and father in the years that followed. 

The second act

Bryant and his wife, Vanessa, married in 2001, and together they had four daughters—Gianna, Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. As many of his friends have noted in the hours since his death, Kobe loved his family more than basketball, business, or anything else. He viewed fatherhood as his primary job. The man who made a career of astonishing moment wasn’t about to miss one of his daughters’ moments. 

Even when still with the Lakers, Bryant demonstrated the priority of fatherhood. He explained why he began traveling by helicopter.

“I would be sitting in traffic and would miss a school play . . . I had to figure out a way that I could still train and focus on the craft, but still not compromise family time. So that’s when I looked into helicopters . . . My routine was always the same: weights in the morning, take the kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, fly back, get back in the carpool line, and pick the kids up. My wife was like, ‘Listen, I can pick the kids up.’ I’m like, ‘No, no, no, I want to do that, because you have road trips and times when you may not see your kids, right, so every chance I get to see them, and spend time with them, even if it’s twenty minutes in the car, I want that.” 

The world knew Kobe Bryant as the tireless challenger, the Black Mamba. But his daughters knew him first as Dad. 

After his retirement, Kobe, Vanessa, and the girls often sat together along the court during Lakers’ home games. Bryant was only steps away from his former life, but he always seemed more enthralled by the time with his girls. 

When Gianna, nicknamed Gigi, took up her father’s sport, Kobe began coaching her and her friends. In an interview with CBS last year, Bryant was asked what was most difficult about coaching his daughter. He responded, 

“Making sure she knows that I love her whether she plays well or plays like crap. Doesn’t matter. It’s fine. You know, ‘You’re my daughter before you’re a basketball player.’” 

Unlike generations of stars before him, Bryant transitioned into the unknown second life seamlessly. He admirably concentrated his attention on his family. He took up a second career in digital storytelling and quickly won an Academy Award. It seems Bryant learned to focus his competitive nature on a practice, game, or editing session, then shut down, return to his daughters, and give them his undivided attention. 

The shocking tragedy 

Kobe’s renaissance as a husband, father, and storyteller only adds to Sunday morning’s tragedy. Along with his daughter, Gigi, and the seven other precious lives in that helicopter, Bryant’s death has moved the world to tears. 

In his final moment, Bryant was no doubt in a happy place: He was with his daughter and several friends, traveling to a basketball game. These two things—family and basketball—were his life, and together they are his legacy. 

As the Proverbs show, life is more than just being alive; it’s a flourishing of one’s affairs in vibrant family time and meaningful work. Conversely, as Derek Kidner has commented, “death is a whole realm in conflict with life, rather than a single and merely physical event . . . Death throws its shadow over the living.”[2]

Today, we feel the long shadow death has cast on us all, as we remember the greatness of Kobe Bryant on the court and, most importantly, among his family. It was a well-lived life cut far too short, a reminder of the frailty of life and brutality of death. And it’s a reminder of the importance of knowing the One who conquered death and offers the hope of eternal life to those who trust in him. 


  1. ^ Wright Thompson, The Cost of These Dreams, xiii. 
  2. ^ Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, 53-56. 

Jeremy Linneman

Jeremy Linneman is lead pastor of Trinity Community Church, a church he planted in Columbia, Missouri. Prior to planting Trinity, he was a staff pastor of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky, for seven years. He is author of Life-Giving Groups: “How-To” Grow Healthy, Multiplying Community Groups (Sojourn Network, 2017). Jeremy and his wife, Jessie, have three … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24