There Is No End of the Tunnel

As a six-year-old boy
Deeply in love with you
I never saw the end of the tunnel.
I only saw myself
Running out of one.

And so I ran. 

 — Kobe Bryant, Dear Basketball

THIS YEAR, THE WORLD WAS ROCKED TO ITS CORE when Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others were taken from this earth in a devastating helicopter crash.

Kobe was my all-time favorite athlete. He was my childhood hero. Kobe Bryant was a force of inspiration who now looks down on us with his signature radiant smile.

I believe when the name Kobe Bryant is spoken, it comes from a smiling face. It comes from a body imitating his undefendable fade-away, or a motivated mind whose life is enhanced by the bar Kobe set.

I can’t begin to imagine what the Bryant family continues to go through. Yet, I think about Kobe and reflect on the joy he continues to bring to the world. 

I think about the young Kobe, the Black Mamba whose nightly bouts of on-court brilliance would be the highlight of my high school days. 

I think about the name Kobe gave himself when he retired — Vino — getting better with age like a fine Italian wine.

I remember running into Kobe at a Van Nuys Panda Express with my brother when I was eight. He, too, was just a kid with a glimmer in his eye.

What we do with the time we’re given translates to how we will be remembered when what’s left of us is a name in the memory of those whose lives we touched.

Kobe’s highlight reel played on the Staple Center Jumbotron for the Laker’s first game back after his death.

I sat on my couch in tears as Kobe’s confident voice read his personal essay, Dear Basketball, over the loudspeakers.

Goosebumps covered my arms and legs, and chills shot down my back. 

At Kobe’s memorial, the legends of the game told of their all-time favorite Kobe moments. I watched without saying a word, captivated by the hilarious and sensitive stories of Kobe — the basketball equivalent of Achilles.

 Like the ancient Greek warrior, Kobe instilled fear in every enemy; his work ethic and skill were unrivaled.

Then, Vanessa Bryant gave a speech that seemed incomprehensible to make. She provided insight into the psyche of an athlete who did things so inhuman, he became exactly that. Kobe Bryant was immortal.

In the past few months, however, we’ve been shown that nobody is immune to the hand of fate. It took something unimaginable to make us realize how precious every breath is.

How are we then to justify living anyway ungrateful for our breath? What reason do we have to not living every day like it may be our last, and we’ll do anything to go down fighting for what’s in our hearts?

We must learn from our reality and not be afraid of it, but attack it as Kobe did; we must love it as Kobe did.

The end goal will come if it’s meant to be. The journey  —  the blood sweat and tears which Kobe gave his life for  —  is everything.

I’ll never forget when I heard the news on a normal day in January. But what is normal? Thousands of people are dying every day, and we’re waiting to get back to our daily routines.

Will that make things normal? When we’re able to see our friends and family and give them a long-needed hug?

When we’re allowed to go out to restaurants and walk by people in the street and share a smile not covered by a mask?

The world will never be normal, and that’s okay. 

There will always be something. However, the journey is all that matters; how we live every day is the process that Kobe mastered.

Kobe’s life will be, in large part, remembered for the staggering achievement of securing five championships. The accolades were a byproduct of the mentality he tirelessly fostered, the unmatched dedication he gave every day.

He put in innumerable hours not when the cameras were on, but when he would look outside the gym and see the moon in the sky in the small morning hours.

He put in the work when the only sound in the gym was the echo of the ball, resonating with every patient bounce on the free-throw line. His sole opponent wasn’t his rival Boston Celtics, but the voice in his head  —  his engine, not the chanting of the crowd, but the beating of his heart. 

The moments that define Kobe Bryant were when the world wasn’t watching.

We can look into the sky and believe this all happens for a reason. We can take the unique situation we’ll forever be in and stand up to the challenge.

We can live like Kobe and love this process of growth.

I think of Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, as someone who cherished the fight like Kobe.

In the last chapter of Knight’s fascinating memoir Shoe Dog, he describes a night out with his wife seeing a movie. They run into Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, two of the top five richest men today.

Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Phil Knight are more influential in our modern-day than the kings of ancient history. Their influence comes from the businesses they built and their funds and organizations; they can change the planet.

As I write this, I’m twenty-four years old. When Knight was twenty-four, he had just graduated from Stanford Graduate School of Business.

 Before launching into a full-time profession as a Certified Public Accountant, he asked himself: is this really what I want to do with my life?

He decided to travel in hopes of better understanding this planet, our home. This trip was his launching point for incredible success.

He noticed the new and innovative market the Japanese were creating with their running shoes. He recognized a hole in the American market for running shoes and capitalized on the opportunity.

Knight brought the nascent athletic shoe market to the United States from Japan and became the West Coast distributor of Tiger brand running shoes, based out of Osaka.

From that day forward, Nike was his child; he dedicated everything to his business. Phil Knight built Nike based on something he loved: running.

In the last chapter, Knight describes that evening with nothing to do. He looks at his to-do list for the next day. For the first time in a long time, it’s empty.

He ponders the early days of Nike, the days filled with creation and fervent belief in what he was building. 

He wishes he had a recorder in the office during those nights of brainstorming, he says, figuring out how the hell they’d get out of a specific situation with Nike still intact.

Some days he dreaded heading into the office. Yet he and his motley team always found a way to rally through when the outlook seemed hopeless.

He built Nike on love. Without love for the journey, there is no reason to fight. 

There’s no reason to keep taking steps when we can’t see the finish line, to get up when we’ve been chewed and spit out.

The love of life makes the struggle worth it.

I’m sure if they could give up their success  —  Kobe his championship rings and Knight his established empire to be a rookie again or in the initial days of Nike  — they’d take it in a heartbeat.

We aren’t all born with the same incomparable drive as Kobe Bryant or Phil Knight. Yet, we can absolutely learn from them.

We can learn to love the journey; there is no end of the tunnel. All we must do is take one step after the other — eventually, the light will reveal itself. 

These are the days we will remember, we’re in the tunnel with the gift of life before us.

We must cherish every moment.

And we both know, no matter what I do next
I’ll always be that kid
With the rolled up socks
Garbage can in the corner
:05 seconds on the clock
Ball in my hands.
5 … 4 … 3 … 2 … 1

 — Kobe Bryant, Dear Basketball

In memory of Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba. 

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