The loss of idols

The tragic death of Kobe Bryant brings to light once again what it means to have heroes and idols in our lives.

We mourn en masse the passing of celebrities. We see people nearly inconsolable over the loss of someone they didn't know and never met, yet the loss is felt just as strongly as if they were a family member.

Athletes and entertainers are likely the ones that fall into this category. These idols have provided us with memorable moments of joy, whether it is a championship of our favorite sports team, movies or TV shows that we have invested in, or songs that make us sing along or dance.

And when these people are taken from us at an early age, especially suddenly, it is hard for us to process, or to find a way to deal with the shock and our emotions in the immediate moments.

In these times, I believe it's important to keep a perspective on celebrity adoration in our lives.

For me, I hold these types of losses at an arm's length. It's hard for me to equate the feeling I might have for the passing of Kobe Bryant with the depth of sorrow and physical distress that comes with the death of a close friend or a family member. Perhaps that is a function of my own personality that I reserve those emotions to be felt in my own personal way.

That's not to say I don't shed a tear when there is a loss of life in any such tragic event. I feel the same way when I read about people who are killed in accidents or storms or the like. It's particularly hard when they are young people who are taken from the earth in a seemingly random manner, without having a chance to make their mark on the world.

In the case of Kobe Bryant, his celebrity transcended the basketball court in a way the very few do. He was in the category of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning. There are very few comparisons to make at that level. You have to look to the deaths of Michael Jackson or Prince or Princess Diana for that magnitude of loss.

I've written in the past about my celebrity idols — primarily Walter Payton, who seemingly single-handledly lifted my Chicago Bears from the depths of mediocrity to the Super Bowl. When Payton died, it was crushing, and I cried and dealt with my personal grief at the loss.

Then we also have the grief we share with millions of others. That group mentality can tend to magnify the emotion to the point where those who were not fans tend to wonder of the outpouring is somewhat overblown in the media and among the population.

It's also at these times we tend to see our idols in a light of infallibility, and at such times, it's understandable. Kobe Bryant wasn't perfect. In 2003, he was charged with rape and for a while was reviled as much as he was beloved. in the years since, he seems to have overcome his early behavior and was using his celebrity and his heart for worthy causes and as an inspiration to others.

Some never forgave him for his earlier actions. Most did. But it does present an interesting case study in what it takes for the masses to forgive or overlook a celebrity's miscues. Some survive scandal. Others do not.

I agree that the death of Kobe Bryant is a massive loss. For the current group of NBA players and younger, Bryant was THE star to emulate, in game, style and manner. They never saw Jordan or Magic or Bird play. Bryant's playing career was over, but he was the standard-bearer for the league as it elder statesman, and would likely have been for decades to come.

Kobe Bryant will be missed. So will the uncle you had that special connection with. Or the neighbor down the street whose kids you played with when you were younger. Or your best friend from college.

Let's make sure we keep the grief we feel in times of loss in perspective.