Kobe, Comic Con, and the Quest for First.

It’d be disingenuous of me to say I was a huge Kobe Bryant fan. I think he was a phenomenal athlete, but I mostly checked out of the NBA after the Sonics left Seattle, and have only checked back in over the past few years as Giannis has captured my attention. I’d put Kobe on the Mt Rushmore of all time great basketball players, but out of respect to those who are deeply mourning, I wouldn’t call my self a huge fan. So I was a little shocked at how hard the news of Kobe’s death hit me. Over the course of the day, as details came to light and I watched those who are huge fans mourn, my heart began to break for them. I lost my sports hero a few years back, and know that pain is real. 

When Kobe died, I immediately went back to the emotions of losing Tony Gwynn, which took me back to the emotions of losing my dad. Multiply that type of emotional train by millions of Kobe/Lakers/Basketball fans and yes, the death of Kobe Bryant is a catalytic moment for many to collectively mourn together.

I can’t really add anything to the conversation about who Kobe Bryant was. He was a fierce competitor, someone who never settled for second place, and was relentless in his pursuit of being the best. He is definitely someone to look up to, admire, and use as inspiration. From what I’ve read of his work ethic, nobody would outwork Kobe, and that is why he was a winner.

A few years ago me and a friend scored some free passes to Comic Con here in San Diego. It was an odd mix of people dressed up as characters that I’d never heard of, and booths and panels for shows and movies that’d I never knew existed. Me and my friend checked the schedule and the only event that looked remotely interesting was a panel for the Big Bang Theory. We both sporadically watched that show and thought it would be fun to be part of the crowds for the advanced screenings and sneak peeks that Comic Con is known for. As we walked into the room two giant hands grabbed our shoulders and pulled us back. Security asked what we were doing, and we told them the Big Bang Theory panel sounded cool. He pointed at the line out the door and around the convention center and said those thousands of people in line had the same idea. It was a line measured by blocks to see a glimpse of a few celebrities, and the first new scenes from the next season of the show.

Our culture thrives on being first. First to see the sneak preview, first to comment, first to arrive, first to… fill in the blank. We treasure first. 

I say this as someone who has spent the past two weeks with notifications set on my phone so that I can stay updated constantly with Padres trade rumors.

We want to be the first to know. And we want to be the first share.

Watching the Kobe Bryant story unfold over the course of Sunday was like living in a Twilight Zone episode premised on the dichotomy of being first in our culture. Somebody had inside information about a helicopter crash, and a notable name that may have been involved in that crash. They gave that info to a less-than-ethical news site who went on to release that info into the sphere of social media. Friends and family started receiving texts from people hearing this ‘news’. Fast forward to a family finding out about the death of their loved ones from an instagram post.

Picture this cycle: I see a car wreck on our street,  and I see Famous Person behind the wheel so I take a picture. I can sell that picture of Famous Person to a sketchy news outlet  and make some money, or I can post that pic to social media. Either way, that picture is out there and spreading fast. I calculated that my personal social media footprint could potentially reach 100,000 people within minutes with a reasonable conservative amount of reposting etc. 

Meanwhile, legitimate news sources are looking at this photo of Famous Person, and they have to decide wether or not to run with the story because nothing has been verified yet. If they wait, they run the risk of being irrelevant, but have the better chance of getting the facts straight. If they move on the story, they get the chance of ‘breaking’ the news, but they also run the risk of missing important details. In the end, we can see which news outlets choose which approach on which story.

Here’s a real scenario. Kobe’s helicopter crashes on 1/26/2020. On 1/26/2005 a Marine Corps CH53E Helicopter crashed, killing 30 Marines and 1 sailor. So people searching for ‘helicopter crash’ or related terms on that day get information about a crash from 15 years ago. In an effort to share that news first, and probably meaning well they repost the article to social media as breaking news. Only its not really breaking news at this point, its the anniversary of a historical event. On my personal feed, that story was posted 17 times by different people. My dad was a CH53E pilot, and that was his old squadron. I remember the crash well. So you can imagine the “Dear God not again” heartbreak that immediately sets in as I click on the headline. And then the subsequent halt and crash of adrenaline as I read the dateline of the story only to realize that this is not another deadly crash. The heart is pumping, the emotions are revving up, and I’m suddenly blindsided by another reminder of the passing of my dad.

I don’t share that to invoke sympathy, plenty of people were hurting more than I possibly could on that day. I say this as a means to pause.

Maybe we rethink what it means to be first.

On a day where we celebrate and mourn a man who went after being first the right way; hard work, high standards, and discipline, maybe we use those principles to hold ourselves accountable with our obsession with being first.

Is our first the result a product of hard work, or a need to cut corners?

Is our first training us to become a better person or does it tempt us to do the bare minimum?

Is our first the result of our identity, or the basis of our identity?

The Bible tells us there is wisdom in being ’slow to speak’. Jesus told us that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. I think both of those verses have many applications, and this week gives us a prime example of how we can put into affect Godly wisdom. In an age of instant information, may we consider the benefits of not having to be first, especially when it means sacrificing our best.

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