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Legal-Ease: An Attorney’s Perspective: The Wisdom of Kobe Bryant

By February 21, 2020 March 1st, 2020 No Comments

Judd Matsunaga, Esq.

Kobe Bryant was on the minds and in the hearts of those gathered for the 92nd annual Academy Awards on Feb. 9. Bryant was included in the Academy’s “In Memoriam” video montage, dedicated to those in Hollywood who passed away in the last year. Bryant won an Oscar in 2018 for Best Animated Short Film for “Dear Basketball,” becoming the first pro athlete to win an Academy Award.

Bryant was also admired for his wide-ranging business success, which made him one of the wealthiest athletes on the planet. Bryant died with a net worth of about $600 million, thanks in no small part to being the second-highest-paid NBA player of all time (Source: Forbes, Jan. 28, 2020). He also had more than 20 endorsement deals, including Nike, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz and Hublot.

But this article isn’t about Kobe’s accomplishments, on or off the court — it’s about a letter he wrote and posted for the Players’ Tribune titled: “Letter to My Younger Self.” The letter detailed his advice to his “17-year-old self” and other young players in the league, when it comes to providing financial security for family members.

Bryant’s letter, written in the second person, contains life lessons he learned from his own mistakes with his own family. His biggest advice was to “invest” instead of just giving to relatives:

“But the day will come when you realize that as much as you believed you were doing the right thing, you were actually holding them back. You will come to understand that you were taking care of them because it made YOU feel good, it made YOU happy to see them smiling and without a care in the world — and that was extremely selfish of you.

While you were feeling satisfied with yourself, you were slowly eating away at their own dreams and ambitions. You were adding material things to their lives but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth.

I’m writing you now so that you can begin this process immediately, and so that you don’t have to deal with the hurt and struggle of weaning them off of the addiction that you facilitated. That addiction only leads to anger, resentment and jealousy from everybody involved, including yourself.”

You might be wondering, “Say Judd, what does that have to do with my family? I don’t have $600 million.” True. That’s not my point. My point is that many Japanese American parents are “holding back” their child from their own “dreams and ambitions.” As Kobe shared, “You were adding material things to their lives, but subtracting the most precious gifts of all: independence and growth.”

Sad to say, but I cannot count on both my fingers and toes how many Japanese American families I have personally sat down with where the parent is the center of the child’s life. That child has no job of their own, no friends of their own, no life of their own. The parent, I am sure, honestly believes he/she is doing the right thing.

But I often wonder, what’s going to happen to that 50-year-old child (sometimes it’s 60) when the parent dies? As the parent, don’t you??? If Kobe were here, he would say, “ … and that was extremely selfish of you.” Psychologists call it “enabling.” This enabling may come in the form of paying rent or monthly bills for an adult child without a job.

Finances lead to family arguments, both between parent and child and also between siblings. When money begins to disappear from shared bank accounts or parents can no longer afford to provide essential items for their children, a heated discussion is lurking just around the corner. It’s hard for siblings not to feel hurt when all of the family’s finances begin to go toward enabling one child’s lifestyle.

Bryant suggested using wealth, success and influence to put those loved ones in the best position “to realize their own dreams and find their true purpose.” Bryant then referenced his parents after saying the next time he talks to himself, he might “touch on the challenges of mixing blood with business.” He cautions keeping his parents as parents and not managers. He says to figure out the “right budget for your parents.”

In conclusion, if you have a child who you may have “selfishly” held back from his/her own independence and growth, take Kobe’s advice and think about using your wealth to put those loved ones in the best position “to realize their own dreams and find their true purpose.” For example, perhaps you can set up a trust so that they will always have a “roof over their heads.”

If you are fortunate to have more than one child, try to create an estate plan that won’t cause bitterness and resentment among siblings. After all, siblings might be the only family that child may have after you are gone. Finally, even though you don’t want to think about death, it is crucial to find a good, experienced attorney and start the estate planning process.

Judd Matsunaga is the founding attorney of Elder Law Services of California, a law firm that specializes in Medi-Cal Planning, Estate Planning and Probate. He can be contacted at (310) 348-2995 or judd@elderlawcalifornia.com. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Pacific Citizen or constitute legal or tax advice and should not be treated as such.