"When I have the chance to guard Michael Jordan, I want to guard him. I want him. It's the ultimate challenge. I don't want to be the next Michael Jordan, I only want to be Kobe Bryant."

That's one of many quotes from the inspiring athlete who lost his life, together with his thirteen year old daughter, in a tragic accident on Sunday. He was mourned by far beyond his family, friends and Lakers fans. Outpourings of sadness and grief were expressed literally the world over.

I read only a small portion of the eulogies, stories and articles written about him - but from what I did read, something stood out.

He was an athlete, a basketball player - the best of the best. Yet nearly every story or eulogy about him went far beyond basketball. They speak of his love of family, friendship and perseverance. They speak of someone who left a real impression on others, inspiring them to make the best of their life.

This reminded me of a recurring theme about us humans. We all have many exterior personas; defined existences which we are characterized by.

Yet we always look for more.

When a great basketball player passes away in a terrible accident, we seem to consider it almost disrespectful to speak of him simply as having had a great shot, or unstoppable layup.

We want to know more. What did he think? What inspired him? What did he feel? How did he inspire others? What were his triumphs and challenges?

There is a custom that many thousands subscribe to around the globe, of learning three chapters of the books of Maimonides (רמב״ם) every day. Maimonides' work covers the length and breadth of Jewish scholarship, and leaves the student with a comprehensive understanding of the entirety of Jewish law and custom.

One of the subjects in this week's portion of Maimonides is an interesting law called 'Pigul' (פיגול). It means 'disqualifying by intent', and discusses how a priest officiating a service in the Temple in Jerusalem could disqualify the entire service by simply thinking the wrong thought. A mere thought, a simple brain movement, can affect an entire, perfectly rehersed and executed service.

Now that was a quick turn away from basketball!

Not really, though.

One thing that stands out from Kobe Bryant's tragic passing, is that we - subconsciously perhaps - take a person's inner world very seriously. Even if their fame and career were exclusively sports related, we still view them through the lense of what was going one inside them. He was a great basketball player, but we want his legacy to be (also) about what he said, who he loved, what he thought.

As Maimonides wrote regarding a service in the Temple, thoughts matter. Feelings matter. A simple uptick in our attitude, invisible at first, can have concrete consequences on weeks or even years of our lives.

That is one of the reasons why Judaism places such a strong emphasis on Torah study - filling our minds with inspiring words. It's not just because of the actual study - which is crucial as well. It's because what we have in our minds, what we think and feel, has a tremendous effect on everything we do.

Learn from Kobe Bryant. Basketball is great. Inspired basketball is better. Life is great. Inspired life is better too.

Rabbi Avrohom