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Column: Death of Kobe Bryant reminds us what really matters

Final game
Kobe Bryant kisses his wife, Vanessa, after his last game at Staples Center on April 13, 2016.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Almost as soon as LeBron James scored his 33,644th point midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Twitter exploded with a familiar debate: Who is better, Kobe or LeBron? It’s a familiar question with an unsatisfactory answer because loyalty can’t be quantified. Stats can be cited, championships counted, analytics and the eyeball test butt heads and yet at the end of the day, no consensus is reached.

Yet again.

Then Sunday came … and none of it mattered.

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In America we’ve been programmed to treat nuance like tiny speed bumps to be ignored on the fast track to the conclusions we’ve already drawn. We script rebuttals to arguments yet to be made, the byproduct of a society obsessed with being the best. We don’t stop to smell the roses because, well, we’re moving too fast to even notice there are roses. Social media is no doesn’t help, of course, but the truth is we were like this long before Tom wanted to be our friend on Myspace.

Sports is not immune to this. One could say it is a focal point with its parade of MVP awards, Hall of Fame inductions and constant pursuit of the GOAT — the Greatest Of All Time — which is the most pressing issue among fans regardless of the sport. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your favorite athlete to be the best, it just seems as if it is supplanting the reason we connect with the sport they play in the first place. So when James supplanted Kobe Bryant for third on the NBA scoring list, fans did what we always do.

Then came Sunday.

L.A. mourns the death of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

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I won’t pretend to behave as if I have not engaged in these fruitless comparisons. They’re fun and for the most part harmless. In my business, these arguments are monetized. But unfortunately they also erode our ability to just sit back and enjoy the game, you know, be in the moment. The way fantasy football and/or gambling undermines our ability to watch without obsessing over specific markers to be reached. Why can’t James or Tiger Woods or Serena Williams or Canelo Álvarez just be great without the need to have their place in history be determined while still in the midst of their career? In a span of 12 hours, many went from dissecting Bryant’s game to wishing we could see him play one more time. The debates faded because we instinctively knew all that really mattered was his family, friends and how watching him play made us feel. Of course the reality is that’s all that really mattered in the first place. In a world driven by talk, it’s easy to forget to feel.

Saturday we monitored numbers.

Sunday we mourned the man.

May Monday be a day in which simply watching the brilliance of Roger Federer or James Harden be enough. May the play of Patrick Mahomes or Richard Sherman on Sunday do the same. More importantly, may every day be one in which we tell the ones we care about how we feel — if we haven’t done so already.

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