Challenge Accepted

With two G.O.A.T’s on the track, apparently I need to bring my A-game.

Hey Jael! Do Better…

I hated Kobe Bryant as a kid.

Yeah, I know he’s dead and you’re not supposed to speak ill of the dead, but it’s a fact that’s relevant to the story I’m about to tell you; I’ll take my five minutes of public shame for the sake of it.

I hated him because not only did him, Shaq and that whole ’01 Laker franchise squad demolish my 76ers, but these niggas straight up and down EMBARRASSED my childhood hero/inappropriate crush/ obsession Allen Iverson. It was something I never entirely forgave him for, even though I was 12 at the time I made the choice to despise him for life (I wasn’t always this mature.)

So color me surprised when the man who I’d spent the bulk of my adolescent years despising, up and went and died this year — on my birthday. This means that for all intents and purposes, I am inexplicably linked to him by my date of birth. Again, this isn’t proper post-death protocol (especially given the fact that his death and that of his daughter Gianna and several others is still fresh in the minds of most — and incredibly horrific), but I tend to view life through a rather introspective (read: self-centric) lens because, well, everywhere I go, there I am.

I’d like to pause here for dramatic effect because I feel like I owe you an explanation before I continue. You see I am a first generation American: I was raised to give my best at all times. My mother was the kind of woman who would ask me where the other four points where when I brought home a 96% on test…yeah. And the ideology she’d tattooed on my brain from a very young age was that if I worked super hard and did my best, opportunities would find me and I wouldn’t have to go looking for them. This motto was further drilled into my head by a battery of Caribbean teachers who acted like 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th mamas, ensuring that I only delivered my best work no matter what; so I am no stranger to being challenged to go above and beyond.

Enter today, August 24th, the day after Kobe’s birthday (and oddly enough Dave Chappelle’s birthday — HAPPY BIRTHDAY DAVE!!!) when on a midnight Waffle House run (if you’re from Georgia you can relate) I happened to be in the mood for the smooth and playalistic stylings of the Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy” (“if ya don’t know know ya know, nigga”); so I pulled up my TIDAL app to listen to B.I.G’s “it was all a dream” spiel when I just so happened to stumble across Nike’s latest ad and tribute to Kobe for his birthday, as narrated by Kendrick Lamar.

Pause here again.

I am a huge fan of Kendrick Lamar and his relentless work ethic. So much so that he creeped into my dream the other day and critiqued my manuscript calling it a “bold experiment that was falling flat.” Yeah.


I listened to the ad and I felt like Kobe had issued a personal challenge from the grave. As Kendrick waxes poetic about how many ways Kobe taught us to be better at everything from mentorship to parenthood, I knew in that moment to reclaim my birthday I’d have to do one thing. Be better than Kobe Bryant (oh my god that’s sounds terrible).

Again some more backstory. I have an incredibly large ego; not Kanye West big but I do use psychedelics regularly (and meditate inconsistently) to be humbled by the presence of something larger than myself so that I don’t come off as a giant douchebag — because I most certainly was one in the first quarter of my life. And for a person with an ego that big, it sucks that I already have Ellen Degeneres (Oy vey Ellen!), Eddie Van Halen (another oy vey), Anita Baker (fingers crossed she won’t become problematic, she’s my last hope), Angela Davis (fingers crossed here too), W Kamau Bell (my Mufasa’s cuzzo and brilliant comedian), Kirk Franklin (DO YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?), Tye Tribbett (gave me life in church) and Paul Newman (hooray Newman’s Own) born on the same day as me. And while I am happy to share the limelight with such awesome people (well 6.5 out of 8 ain’t bad — oy Ellen!), hubris desires to write its name among the stars (the Philoctetes effect).

Now with Kobe’s (and Gianna’s) death thrown into the mix — and they were truly awesome, amazing individuals — to accomplish my goal of leaving behind something that will outlive me means I have to rise to the challenge of becoming a better person. I can’t skate by on haphazard efforts and remain content to rest on my laurels. I have to stay hungry and foolish (oddly enough Kendrick said the same thing, he hustles like he’s still broke), I have to push myself to do the simple things right and always better. And with his death linked to my birthday, this is going to be a persistent reminder akin to playing one-on-one with a spirit and getting trash-talked the whole time (“Is that best you got?”).

You may not have to worry about a yearly one-on-one session with Kobe, but the challenge applies to you as well. Whether you plan to write your name across the stars or on the hearts of those closest to you, you have to ask yourself consistently: Am I do doing better? Have I gotten content and stagnant? Or will I continue to adapt and evolve into a newer better version of myself determined to leave this world just a little brighter than when I entered it?

Kobe managed to do that while he was here; so much so, that when he left, the wind got knocked out of a lot of people because it just didn’t feel right at all — including me, his biggest adversary he never met (at least in my mind; again my ego is disgustingly huge, I’m working on it — pray for me, I need Jesus). He left a big fucking dent in the universe and since he dipped on my birthday, it’s only right I do the same or die trying. It’s what Kobe would have wanted. (Seriously he said it in the commercial, well not me specifically more like vague generality but you get the point).

Now if you excuse me, I’m bout to Kobe the fuck out my manuscript so I can win a Pulitzer like Kendrick — or at least get him to say it’s decent in my dreams. Shit.

It’s on Kobe.



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Jael R. Bakari

Jael R. Bakari

I write and speak about the shit that keeps me up at night. 4️⃣🖤🐑