Kobe Bryant (41) and his daughter Gianna (13) were among the nine victims to perish in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday, January 26. Courtesy of insideedition.com
By Jared Prenda
The world lost greatness personified on the morning of Sunday, January 26th as NBA legend Kobe Bryant was one of nine to perish in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The private helicopter was owned by Bryant and was used as his frequent form of transportation throughout southern California since his playing days with the Los Angeles Lakers. Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa and their three remaining daughters.
Onboard the helicopter was Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna “Gigi” Bryant, who had all of her father’s drive and passion for the game of basketball. The helicopter was traveling to a game at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, where Bryant was the head coach of his daughter’s AAU team.
Also aboard the flight was Gigi’s teammate Alyssa and her parents, John and Keri Altobelli, who were traveling with the Bryants to practice. John was the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College. Christina Mauser was the head women’s basketball coach at Harbor Beach Day school in Newport News, California, which Gigi attended. Mauser was Bryant’s assistant coach for the AAU team. Sarah and Payton Chester were also on board the flight, as Payton was another member of the Mambas. The pilot, Ara Zaboyan,who had over 8,000 hours of flight experience, also perished in the crash.
The Catholic University of America campus, as with the rest of the world, is reeling from the loss of such a superstar and role model. The news of the crash was on every student’s tongue the Monday after the crash and the purple and gold of the Lakers could be seen on students all over campus. Nicholas Mele, a senior finance major and former member of the CUA basketball team, was one such student.
“Kobe was the inspiration that many kids didn’t have,” said Mele. “He gave us the mentality and confidence that we all needed as players. ‘Tragedy’ isn’t the right word for this, he was the best we’ve ever seen.”
Sophomore Media and Communications major Robbie Cruz was another student who was struck by the death of an icon.
“After I heard the news, I didn’t know what to think,” said Cruz. “I didn’t know if I should believe it or not, because the timing seemed impossible. However, after all the news broke and I realized it actually happened, I found myself breaking down in tears as I put my Kobe jersey on for the day.”
Bryant dominated the league from the moment he entered as the number 1 overall pick in the 1997 NBA Draft. The Philadelphia native would go on to play 20-seasons with the Lakers, winning 5 championships, 1 MVP award, an 18-time All-Star, and 15 All-NBA Team selections and is currently fourth all-time in scoring as his friend and fellow competitor Lebron James passed him just hours before the fateful crash. In his career, Bryant would go on to single-handedly dominate his opponents with stellar performances such as scoring 81-points against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 and 60 points in his final game in the Lakers Center.
Despite his stature in NBA lore, Bryant had a controversial career. In the summer of 2003, Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman in Colorado. The case was dropped by the prosecution before it went to trial due to the victim’s unwillingness to testify in court. She later filed a civil lawsuit against the then 24-year-old Bryant and the details of the settlement were never released. Bryant released the following apology in the wake of the allegations, and changed his number from 8 to 24 and embodied the new nickname of “The Black Mamba.”
“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual,” he said in a statement, “I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.”
Bryant transitioned smoothly into retirement and was ready to tackle the next part of his life. Beyond being an active father and husband, Bryant worked on a number of projects. In 2017, an animated short accompanying the poem where Bryant announced his retirement called “Dear Basketball” won an Oscar award. He also had a show on ESPN+ called “Kobe Bryant presents: Detail,” where he would breakdown the film and skills of the game’s current stars. He would also actively mentor and coach NBA talent and prospects at his Mamba Sports Academy.
Beyond the CUA community, the death of Bryant has drawn international attention and remembrance from the greatest competitors in sports. Celebrities and former NBA greats took to social media to say goodbye to their departed friend. Each team in the NBA which played on Sunday started the games with a 24-second shot clock violation, an homage to the number Bryant wore in his career. The Orlando Magic even triggered an 8-second backcourt violation to commemorate the number 8 which Bryant wore early in his career. In France, Brazillian superstar soccer player Neymar signaled the number 24 with his hands after scoring his second goal for Paris-St. Germain in a game Sunday afternoon. ESPN aired his final game on Monday night to remember the legend.
Bryant’s legacy is one that will carry on long after his death. Currently on change.com is a petition with just under 2,000,000 signatures asking the NBA to change its logo from the silhouette of fellow Laker great Jerry West to Bryant. The Lakers game on Tuesday, January 28, the team’s first since his death, has been postponed. Thousands gathered outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles to hold a vigil for their hero, and the online community of the videogame NBA 2k20 came together with a remembrance card on the title screen and a gathering on players’ avatars in Lakers gear in the “neighborhood hub” section of the game.