On Sunday morning Kobe Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter, Gianna, (“Gigi”) and seven others died in a tragic helicopter crash in Calabassas. They were heading to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, which Bryant co-founded in 2018 and where Gigi was due to compete in a basketball game.
I prayed what I heard was somehow a mistake. But as I flipped TV channels, every station confirmed the nightmare I’m still trying to process. As I viewed people all over the world grieving, memories of Kobe brought tears to my eyes.
That night I watched Australian Open tennis and was again overcome that the sold out stadium was populated by Aussies wearing Kobe jerseys. Clearly, Kobe was far more than a basketball legend, he was an inspiration to fans all over the world.
In China, where Kobe promoted basketball and was beloved, millions mourned. Throngs grieved in Italy, where Kobe had spent seven years of his childhood when his father Joe had played in professional basketball league. In Santa Monica, our solar powered Ferris Wheel honored Kobe with dazzling light displays of Laker patterns in gold and purple and Kobe’s uniform numbers 8 and 24 and lots of ❤ that ran from sunset to midnight through Wednesday.
Jackie, a reader of mine in Philadelphia, mourned Kobe in an email. “Philadelphians are used to giving great things to the world, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Many from our city have been ambassadors to the world such as Ben Franklin. But never have we sent forth one that was so loved as this Native Son.” My older sister called in tears. It felt as though there was a death in the family. It still does.
Frankly, five days later, it still doesn’t seem real. Kobe, who came to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers at 17, is gone forever at 41 along with Gigi. And poor Vanessa, is now a widow and their 3 surviving daughters, Natalia, Bianka and 7-month old Capri (“Koko”) have lost their dad. On Wednesday Vanessa found the strength to speak out. “We are devastated,” she said, but thanked those who had sent prayers. “We definitely need them.” She also announced the formation of a fund to help support the other families that were affected by the crash.
Over the twenty years Kobe played for the Lakers, we literally watched him grow up with milestones and mistakes. I saw him play during his first season and he tried so hard to prove he belonged in the NBA he tried to dribble through opponents only to commit a turnover or take a wild shot. (In his second year, however, he became an All-Star.)
Kobe came to the Lakers via one of my basketball heroes, Jerry West. As G.M., West arranged for the trade that brought Kobe to L.A. with the 13th pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. Kobe was so young his parents had to sign his first contract. As Jerry remembered young Kobe to whom, for years, he became a surrogate father, he wept. I did as well. In fact. every time I see a photo of Kobe with his family, or one of him and Gigi, I can’t hold back the tears.
I saw Kobe in person in the first Laker home game he appeared in. Twenty years later, on TV, I saw his last game when he scored a remarkable 60 points! But it wasn’t just his extraordinary basketball talents, the 5 NBA Championships, two Gold Medals and 18 All-Star games that so inspired the world. It was his Mamba Mentality that drove him to work harder than anyone, determined to be the best he could be.
After Kobe retired he became the best husband and father he could be. He was so at peace in the second chapter of his life it was as much a joy to watch as his basketball heroics.
We also need to mourn for others who died Sunday. John Altobelli, coach of Orange Coast College’s baseball team, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa; Ara Zobayan, the instrument-rated pilot; Sarah Chester, 45, and her 13-year-old daughter Payton; and Christina Mauser, 38, one of Bryant’s assistant coaches on the Mamba Academy team.
Matt Mauser, now a widower and courageously shared his emotions on the Today Show, “I got three small girls asking for their mother and I’m trying to figure out how to navigate life for them with no mom.”
“Superman” Kobe seemed immortal but with his shocking passing, many are trying to follow his Mamba Mentality and that includes being the best human being you can be. If his death means anything it’s that life is short and nothing is promised. So show family and friends that you love them and have compassion for strangers. In that way, Kobe lives.
Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more, Please Google “Jerry West remembers Kobe;”“Jimmy Fallon remembers Kobe;” and “Steven Colbert strange connection to Kobe.”