I considered Kobe Bryant a neighbor. When I came to Wynnewood in 1991, Kobe was a basketball star at Lower Merion High School. I remember the accolades written in the Main Line Times on a weekly basis. I recall driving by his home on Remington Road as he was getting into a limousine on his way to Lower Merion’s senior prom.
I also remember giving a sermon when he decided to forgo college and go directly into the NBA. I expressed my dismay at his decision, suggesting that his decision would send a negative message to others about the importance of higher education. It became clear, not too long after that sermon, that I had been about as wrong as I could have been about his decision
Kobe became one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the game. He became a star for the LA Lakers, an All-Star in 18 of the 20 years he played, and an inspiration to millions of kids the world over.
As I listened to the news reports, arriving in Israel on Sunday night, the comments and recollections of those interviewed were consistent in their expressions of shock and sadness. They were, as well, overflowing with praise for his accomplishments. He had done so much by age 41. He will be missed by all who knew him, as well as those who simply admired him from afar.
I cannot help but notice, however, the strange juxtaposition of this tragedy with another tragedy we recall this week. Live broadcasts will be received by millions around the world as the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz is observed and marked. Two hundred and fifty Auschwitz survivors will attend the ceremony, along with dozens of representatives from countries throughout the world, on the grounds of Auschwitz. Most believe that this will be the last formal commemoration (which occurs every five years) at which survivors will be able to attend. Their numbers are dwindling, and soon we will have only their stories to hold, preserve, and retell.
What occurred to me as I received the news about Kobe is the incredible difference one person can make on the world. I listened from Jerusalem to reports about Kobe from American, Israeli, and European news outlets, including Al-Jazeera, all reporting on the tragedy and the magnitude of the loss. And I could not help but wonder, as we recall what happened 75 years ago, in a place where over a million Jews were murdered, what would the world have been like had they not been killed. How many “Kobes” would there have been? How many might have become renowned as athletes, scholars, scientists, engineers, architects, or even rabbis? How would the world have been changed for the better had they lived?
It is hard to grasp the notion of one million people, let alone six million. But if we can think of the difference one person can make, using their God-given gifts and the opportunities available to them, we begin to grasp the magnitude of the loss of those who died at Auschwitz, and elsewhere, at the hands of the Nazis.
I know we join together in expressing sadness and horror at the death of Kobe Bryant. At the same time, we mourn for millions, one of whom might have been a Kobe, or perhaps an Einstein, or perhaps a Moses. On this, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we recall not only deaths but lives that were never lived.