A mamba mentality inspired by his Catholic faith

On January 26, 2020, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter accident while flying to his daughter Gianna’s basketball game. Social media was flooded with tributes, memories, and eulogies for one of the greatest basketball players of all time. We live in an era of mononyms—Jordan, Shaq, LeBron, and more—yet one name stood above them all: Kobe. Named after the Japanese beef, Kobe quickly became the go-to superstar for young basketball players everywhere, who would heave up deep three-point shots while calling out his name, a singular act of homage repeated again and again.

Kobe was one of the first players to go straight from high school to the pros. He then spent the next twenty years in the NBA utterly dominating some of the most athletic men on the planet and winning a total of five NBA championships. The day before he died, LeBron James passed him to become the third-highest NBA scorer. Kobe’s tweet congratulating him on the achievement was undeniably gracious: “Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect[,] my brother.” He was known to be an intimidating, detail-oriented teammate and practiced his craft obsessively. 

Everyone will remember these things, however. The work ethic, the buzzer-beaters, the championships: the list goes on and on. What we would do well to remember is that he was essentially a man of faith. Raised Catholic in Italy, Kobe practiced his faith for the rest of his life through good times and bad.

An article published by the Catholic News Agency details how he relied on his Catholic faith as he was faced allegations of sexual assault in 2003. Kobe told GQ in 2015, “The one thing that really helped me during that process—I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic—was talking to a priest.” He recounted his priest’s reaction: “It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ’Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So let it go.’ And that was the turning point.” 

He followed his spiritual director’s orders and re-entrusted his life to God. Married since 1999, his wife filed for divorce in 2011. With two daughters already born, he fought to preserve his marriage. Somehow, he persuaded his wife to withdraw the filing two years later. He admitted that his marriage is not perfect, echoing husbands and wives all over. “We still fight, just like every married couple. But you know, my reputation as an athlete is that I’m extremely determined, and that I will work my [butt] off. 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.” 

Similar to another Los Angeles-area athlete, Kobe began looking into commuting by helicopter in order to be able to spend more time with his family. With an uncertain Orange County drive transformed into a fifteen-minute chopper ride, he could work out in the morning, drop his kids off at school, and then head to work. The intensity with which he approached basketball—shoot-arounds, weightlifting, and film study—is the same intensity that he brought to his personal life, animated by his Catholic faith. Unfortunately, this faith was largely passed over during his life. We can hope that as coverage of his death continues, that an increased emphasis will be placed on this aspect of his life.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.

Zef Crnkovich is a sophomore PLS and classics double major living in Stanford Hall. He now resolves to rededicate himself with a Kobe-ean intensity to his faith and academic life. As always, send your comments to jcrnkovi@nd.edu.