by Jesse Frazier
It was a casual Sunday afternoon of homework, pretty mundane until I took a short break to check Twitter and there it was; the TMZ headline that Kobe Bryant passed away in helicopter crash in the hills just outside Los Angeles.
I was stunned. “No way, that can’t be right… the Kobe Bryant?”. Not only was Bryant gone but eight others, including Kobe’s 13 year-old daughter Gianna. This was a disaster and a tragedy but the unreliability of TMZ made me question the story’s truth. In fact, ABC News mistakenly reported that Rick Fox, a former Lakers player and actor, was in the helicopter and passed.
Later that afternoon most major news sources confirmed that the lives of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Alysa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Sara Chester, and Peyton Chester were taken suddenly after the helicopter lost control.
Sure, you may only know one name that was lost in the rubble. Not many come close to achieving status like cultural and athletic icon, Kobe Bryant. Simply put, he is one of the best basketball players ever. An 18-time All-Star, five-time NBA-Champion, the fourth-most points scored all-time, twice a Finals MVP and Olympic Gold Medalist, an MVP and an Oscar-award for his Dear Basketball short. And yet, this story highlights what Kobe would like to be remembered for the most, his duties as a husband and father to four daughters. The Philly native was always told to let a son carry his legacy, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Following his retirement from basketball in 2016, Bryant made public appearances at Lakers games and anywhere the game of basketball could be found. He and his late daughter Gianna were together in Brooklyn for a Nets game earlier this year, with Bryant happy to answer Gianna’s curiosities about the game.
While he was a father to four daughters, multiple generations grew up idolizing Kobe for his tenacity on the court. He was befriended and respected by hundreds of athletes across the sporting world, all inspired by Kobe’s “Mamba mentality” ; the heart, body and soul of a master competitor.
The Dear Basketball short has a new level of poignancy now, reading like Kobe’s final gift to the world and all that he leaves behind:
“It’s not about the destination… it’s about what you experience on the journey that makes you who you are at the end.” It teaches a profound lesson about perseverance and what it means to reach the ultimate goals of life.
It would be remiss to ignore Bryant’s complicated legacy. He was known to be a ruthless, arrogant leader and teammate, best exemplified in his decade-long feud with NBA great Shaquille O’Neal over a series of affairs, greed, and mutual jealousy.
In 2003, Bryant was accused of sexual misconduct with a hotel employee in Colorado. The superstar admitted to the situation, though the victim did not testify, dropping the case entirely. This is believed to be the reason Bryant changed his number from 8 to 24 as he pursued a “fresh start”. He avoided any additional trouble for the next fourteen years of his career, but the optics of the 2003 case are still shocking.
The NBA and sports world have tried to go forward since this loss. Teams in every game around the league took a 24 second violation and an 8 second violation to pay tribute to the Mamba. Players who previously wore 8 or 24 are changing them out of respect and incorporating the number 2, which was Gianna’s number. The Clippers and Lakers game on Jan. 28 was postponed, and longtime friend Carmelo Anthony did not play in Portland’s game in Los Angeles, where a tribute ceremony was held before the game.
Ironically, LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list a day before Bryant’s passing, having spoken to Kobe just hours before the tragedy. James gave a heartfelt speech to honor his friend and rival, and plans to commemorate Bryant’s life with a tattoo.
The crash silenced the energy of Los Angeles, but it has a local connection as well. John Altobelli managed the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod League from 2012 to 2014, mentoring Yankees superstar Aaron Judge and Jeff McNeil of the New York Mets. Altobelli accepted the head coaching position at Orange Coast College from 1992 until his passing, earning Coach of the Year and his 700th career win. Altobelli’s daughter Alysa and Gianna Bryant were teammates at Kobe’s Mamba Sports Academy. Altobelli’s son J.J. is in the Boston Red Sox’s farm system, and the team started a donation drive for the family.
While one name shines above the others, the life and legacy of all nine members will not be forgotten. Boston Celtics radio announcer Sean Grande captured the moment best before Boston’s game hours after the tragedy: “As Celtics fans, we didn’t know Kobe Bryant could break our hearts one more time, we were wrong”.