Amazing grace! how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch; like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.
- Amazing Grace, John Newton
I think that there is no hymn that speaks to me more than this one. Any and every rendition, I hear these lyrics from the first verse and I melt.
Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26. With him was one of his daughters; on the flight were seven others. They were on their way to a girls’ basketball game. Bryant was coaching his daughters’ team. He was dedicated to this and, more broadly, women’s sports.
The city of Los Angeles went into mourning, as did every NBA team and basketball fans around the world. Every day since, hundreds-of-thousands of people came out per day to Staples Center, the Lakers’ home court.
In my memory, I recall nothing like this. It may have been this way for John Kennedy, I don’t know.
Kobe Bryant was a great basketball player, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers for twenty years and retiring just a few years ago. He was well known for his obsessively hard work, going to the gym daily at 4 AM – things like that. After retiring from basketball, he won an Academy Award, among other awards in various entertainment fields. He would write children’s books.
He was fluent in many languages, having grown up in Italy. He would go out of his way to regularly touch base with the hundreds of people that he met along his way.
His was a full life, and it was still only just beginning. He was forty-one years old. Many athletes by this age disappear into retirement; Bryant began a second career that would have been an excellent first career for most.
I write all of this for a glimpse – what was it about this man that caused an entire city and an entire sport to stop and cry? I think it was that in Bryant they saw a life fulfilled, and it was a life with so much more that was certain to get done, but now won’t.
They cried because in Bryant they saw a life filled with meaning, and meaning is desperately lacking in the West. There is an irony to this, as professional sports in the West has both (poorly) filled the need for meaning for many and, of course, created that need by giving us a hollow shell.
On Friday January 31, the Lakers played their first game since Bryant’s death. The game began with a tribute to Bryant. The tribute began with Amazing Grace. Why this song, at this moment, in this decadent culture in the home of the most glamourous team in this glamourous city – Showtime, tinsel-town, Hollywood?
It has been interesting to watch – all of the talk of loving your children, loving each other in the wake of this event. One of the examples left by Bryant was his relationship with his four daughters.
Another, less discussed aspect was his faith. Kobe Bryant was raised a Catholic, and remained a practicing Catholic. It is reported that he attended Mass on the morning of his death. Yes, we also know that he wasn’t perfect.
It's been a long day without you, my friend
And I'll tell you all about it when I see you again
We've come a long way from where we began
Oh, I'll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again
- Wiz Khalifa, featuring Charlie Puth
This song was performed at halftime. Why sing of seeing a dead person again, in this decadent culture in the home of the most glamourous team in this glamourous city – Showtime, tinsel-town, Hollywood?
Jordan Peterson burst on the scene a few years ago. At the root of the Peterson phenomena was a recognition that there is a meaning crisis in the West, and Peterson prompted an explosion in the dialogue within the broader society. People like John Vervaeke and Paul VanderKlay, among others, are continuing this dialogue.
But this is nothing compared to events of this past week. What has happened in Los Angeles and in the global basketball community during these last days has offered, perhaps, the most unexpected, significant example of man’s search for meaning in a society that has lost all meaning – the contrast of a meaningless, decadent Hollywood on the one hand, and the meaning of Amazing Grace on the other.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.
What a waste of time if this isn’t true.