“Oh my gosh…”

It was an otherwise normal Sunday in January before the global pandemic—which seems destined to define 2020—had reached our collective consciousness. Church leaders and a handful of volunteers were cleaning up from our weekly service in Studio City – an influential neighborhood in Los Angeles. Then, I got a notification alert on my phone.

“Oh my gosh… Kobe’s dead,” I said as I read the alert in disbelief.

“What?!” several people shouted after I read it out loud.

The initial shock turned into long minutes of searching online to verify the story. Then it turned into hours, days, and weeks of city-wide mourning for one of LA’s most beloved icons.

As a Southern California native, I’m a Lakers fan by birth. As a church planter and pastor in Los Angeles, I have made it my business to know my city for the past eight years. Kobe’s death had a greater impact on the city than any other celebrity’s passing in my memory. 

There is something emotional and communal about sports that transcends mere entertainment. Ask any fan who has been caught up in the fervor of a playoff run, who has shed tears when their team had a miserable collapse, or who has run up and down their dormitory hallway celebrating a last-second victory. Sports can have an almost spiritual effect on us. And no single sports figure in my lifetime affected LA like Kobe Bryant.

I remember being a teenager and watching Kobe’s first games with the Lakers while my mother worked to raise me as a single parent. I remember being in college with some of my now closest friends, seeing Kobe and the Lakers win the 2000, 2001, and 2002 championships.

I remember silently celebrating in June 2009 as the Lakers won another title while pushing my sleepy, one-month-old daughter on a swing. My wife, next to me, laughed the entire time.

I remember watching his final game in 2016 with my then much older daughter. He scored 60 points in his final outing, and I told her, “This is what it was like! It was amazing to watch him!”

Other friends told me similar stories—spending hours next to their fathers watching the Lakers. Cherished memories, intrinsically bonded to Kobe’s victories and defeats. In short, many lives in LA are marked by countless moments of common grace provided by God through a man’s career.

That is why his death, poignantly in a period during which he embraced fatherhood, left such a profound wound in the city. The countless murals which have sprung up throughout LA in his absence reflect this pain.

In Psalm 90, Moses prays, “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” As I continue to minister in LA, the death of Kobe Bryant is a bittersweet reminder to pray this for myself and for my city.

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