Los Angeles lost an icon, leaving us to comprehend the incomprehensible
There are a few moments in life when the whole world stands still and people collectively stop what they’re doing to take in what has happened. One of these moments came on an overcast morning last Sunday as Los Angeles learned that one of its greatest heroes had died tragically in a helicopter crash alongside his 13-year-old daughter and seven others.
At 9 a.m on Sunday, Jan. 26, Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others boarded Bryant’s private helicopter to fly to a basketball game hosted by Bryant’s amateur basketball league, Mamba Sports Academy, where his daughter and two other passengers on board would play later that day.
A little before 10 a.m, the helicopter became trapped in a very thick fog north of Calabasas, Calif. Scott Daehlin, who happened to be in the area at the time, reported the helicopter was, “hovering in low cloud cover seconds before it crashed in the hills.” Daehlin said he believed the pilot was disoriented in the heavy fog that was so thick that the tops of the hills north of Calabasas weren’t even visible from the ground.
The helicopter struck the side of the steep terrain with such force that the debris covered the span of a football field and the helicopter burst into flames. It was incredibly difficult for first responders to reach the crash site due to the terrain, and the helicopter’s flames were difficult to extinguish due to the magnesium present at the crash site once the firefighters arrived. All of the people on board perished, including the 41-year-old basketball icon
The full emergency response briefing can be found here.
Along with Kobe and his daughter, the victims included Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa (Gianna’s teammate); Sarah Chester and her daughter Payton (also Gianna’s teammate); Christina Mauser (assistant coach of Kobe’s Mamba League team) and Ara Zobayan (the pilot of the aircraft).
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is currently investigating what exactly caused the crash — if it was a matter of weather complications, pilot error, mechanical error or a combination of circumstances.
Regardless, nine people tragically lost their lives, including two children who had their whole lives ahead of them. Kobe is, of course, the most well-known person in this tragedy, but the others on board cannot be forgotten.
Bryant established himself as an NBA’s prodigy from an early age. Growing up in both Philadelphia and Italy, Kobe began to play basketball at three-years-old, which was heavily influenced by his father’s professional career. Kobe’s father, Joe Bryant, played in the NBA for nearly a decade.
Kobe became nationally recognized due to his historic playing tenure at Lower Merion High School in his home state of Pennsylvania. He was quickly noticed as the best high school basketball player in the country, and his skill set was developed enough to where he declared for the NBA Draft following high school graduation, the youngest player to ever enter the NBA.
Drafted by the Charlotte Hornets with the 13th overall pick, Kobe was traded to his childhood team, the Los Angeles Lakers, after a brilliant move by Jerry West, the Lakers’ general manager at the time, who sent starting center Vlade Divac to Charlotte for the pick. Little did anyone know at the time, the move was one of the greatest trades in NBA history.
After the inevitable high school-to-professional adjustment period for Kobe, he became a consistent starter and eventually a fan favorite of Los Angeles. His explosive style of play, in which he would attack the basket with a merciless approach, along with his awe-inspiring ability to create separation from defenders and make clutch shots that seemed impossible in the moment, made Kobe a box office talent.
Even wilder is how he would get better, year after year.
Combined with MVP center Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe and the Lakers went on one of the most impressive runs in NBA history, winning three consecutive titles from 2000-02. After a power struggle on the team, the Lakers traded O’Neal to Miami, and the team went through some rebuilding years. However, Los Angeles management eventually brought in a new team that would lead the Lakers back to the championship with Pau Gasol, Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum joining Kobe to bring two more titles to Los Angeles.
Along with five championship rings, Kobe was also an All-Star a whopping 18 times, making the roster 17 straight seasons and winning four All-Star Game MVPs. He was named to 11 All-NBA First Teams, including nine All-Defensive First Team nods. His most impressive season was in 2008, his lone MVP-winning season, in which he averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game.
Kobe experienced major injuries later in his career with a torn Achilles tendon, a lateral tibial plateau fracture in his left knee and a torn rotator cuff all affecting his play throughout his final three years of competition. But it didn’t matter. It was still Kobe Bryant, he was still going to compete, and he was always going to do it wearing purple and gold.
Kobe concluded his career with the most impressive final game of any NBA star’s career. Against the Utah Jazz on April 13, 2016, Kobe scored 60 points in his farewell game, including 23 points in the final quarter.
In total, Kobe is the fourth highest scorer in NBA history with a cumulative total of 33,643 points. He was also the first player in league history to have at least 30,000 career points and 6,000 career assists. LeBron James is the only other player on that exclusive list.
When comprehending the legacy of Kobe, it may be the statistics that jump out at you, or maybe it’s the countless moments, such as the final game against Utah, that makes him such a special basketball figure. Nevertheless, his legacy expands far beyond the reach of professional basketball.
Kobe’s commitment to his craft is something that anyone can value. There has never been another player who was as committed to basketball as Kobe was. The tales of his preparation and competitiveness on the court are nearly mythological, with stories of him spending hours in the gym before practice (even in high school) or him making teammates play him in one-on-one games to 100.
But Kobe’s love for basketball became unselfish once his daughter Gianna found that same passion. The two built a relationship that was supported by their similar work ethic on the court, and Kobe was influenced to further expand the game’s appreciation of female players. Kobe was a major supporter of the WNBA and made it a personal goal to speak highly of a league that so often gets criticized.
“There’s no better way to learn than to watch the pros do it,” Kobe said to the Los Angeles Times in May 2019. “The WNBA is a beautiful game to watch.”
Kobe also had several passions beyond the sport. Once he retired, Bryant used his legendary “Mamba Mentality” in all facets of his professional career. He learned to become an award-winning storyteller and content creator, with his short film “Dear Basketball” winning an Academy Award and his book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” being beloved by both fans and critics. Surely, there was so much more opportunity that Kobe was destined to receive, and most likely conquer.
However, to understand the man Kobe truly was means to understand him as a father and husband. All of his colleagues and friends drove home this truth of the 41-year-old loving his family more than anything else in the world. He built a relationship with his wife Vanessa in which love was the focal point. They had four daughters together, the last of whom was born only seven months ago. Kobe raised all of his children with pride and jubilation, and he loved being a girl dad.
When living in the spotlight, life tends to go slower. In the world of sports there is always pressure to succeed, always a desire to be the best. Kobe lived that life to its fullest potential, and he did it for the sheer love of the game.
Kobe left everything he had on the court, which he later admitted was a major reason why retirement felt so right in 2016. But beyond basketball, his life was just beginning. That is what makes this such a hard loss for not only the basketball community but for his family and the entire world; Kobe had so much more to offer.
All of us should have a positive reflection on the life of Kobe Bean Bryant. We have the memories that he gave us on the court — the slam dunks, the game-winning three-pointers and the championships. We have the lessons he provided us throughout his life — how to treat pressure with a winning mentality, how to approach commitment to be the best at your craft and how to be a good father. The NBA and countless professional athletes have been and will continue to be inspired by the model Kobe set.
Millions of Americans will channel their inspiration from Kobe into the daily facets of their lives, whether that’s the young kid practicing layups at the park, or the father trying to embrace the passions of his children. The outpouring of love and support has been evidence of how important Kobe was to all of us.
When thinking about Kobe’s legacy, a quote from the classic movie “The Sandlot” jumps to mind. “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” Kobe Bryant was a legend. He may be gone, but the “Mamba Mentality” lives on.
And for that, we thank you No. 8 and 24.
Kobe’s impact in the words of fans
T.J Hardeman, Head Coach of Azusa Pacific Women’s Basketball
“Colossians 3:23 tells us to do everything as unto the Lord. Kobe embodied that scripture with his work ethic. What a great example for all of us to follow on a daily basis in every aspect of our lives.”
Corey Langerveld, Azusa Pacific Sports Information Director
“The news of Kobe and GiGi’s passing was heartbreaking and shattering. Perhaps the hardest part was that we were able to see the connection that they shared around the game, and you saw their love for one another and desire to be with each other as much as possible. From the perspective of a former basketball player, Kobe’s death leaves a huge hole in the game. We all know his work ethic, and he set a standard that demanded excellence and commitment. Even the possibility of his presence at any game or event created a sense of accountability, in that we all wanted to earn his respect and more importantly, not disrespect the intensity and passion he brought to the game.
Above all else, this tragedy is excruciating because the surviving members of the Bryant family lost two members of their unit and must face this reality daily. Their pain will be overwhelming without the love and presence of God, and my prayer is that they look to Him and find hope in who He is.”
Selom Mawugbe, Azusa Pacific Men’s Basketball Player
“Pure disbelief. It’s always hard to come to terms with someone like that being gone. It’s a little bit different, but I’ll equate it in some ways to Michael Jackson’s death because I remember where I was, what I was doing, exactly when it happened and just how widespread the news was. That was all that mattered in the moment. He’s going to be greatly missed. Someone like that is irreplaceable. What we can do now is learn from the time he had on earth and what he gave us. We can also support his family that was left behind. However we feel, they had the worst end of it. They lost a father, a brother, a husband.
It’s kind of hard to put into words how big of an impact someone like that has until they’re gone. Many times you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore. Kobe’s definitely one of those players that transcended the game, even how he did it, with his work ethic and his influence off the court. If you just take a look at social media alone, just how far-reaching someone like that outside of his game alone … in football, tennis, golf, all these different people respected him. That was not only because of what he did on the court but what he did off the court, in terms of his family, his faith, the way he carried himself among others … how he wanted to share those things and willingly did so with others, sharing his technique, his work ethic, his knowledge, not only to help himself but to help others around him.”
Mandrell Worthy, Azusa Pacific Men’s Basketball Player
“I was in shock. I didn’t want to believe it at first. Like he said, disbelief. I was upset for a while. I didn’t talk for a couple hours. I was just sitting there, thinking about his wife, his family, who I don’t even know. It was just a shock, to be honest. He inspired so many people.
My dad is a huge Kobe fan. All my life he told me to like Kobe. At first, as a little kid, I never liked Kobe, but I always respected him, his work ethic, that’s where I get my work ethic from. He’s always inspired me to want to be the best I can, to do the best I can at whatever you do. That’s what I live by. His impact on the court for me and off the court was just as big. Even after he retired, he’s been showing love to the WNBA and helping other players that are currently playing. There’s been so many interviews about his impact outside of basketball. He’s reached so many people outside of basketball. It’s crazy to think that he’s gone. He’s had an impact on the WNBA, the NCAA, girls basketball, all of that stuff.
Reid Conant, ZU Media Staff Writer
“It’s crazy because I hated Kobe as a kid and it wasn’t until I moved to California before I realized the true essence of the Black Mamba. His reach and impact go so far beyond basketball, he truly touched the world and that’s why it hurts so bad. He was one of a kind human and athlete. The world is far worse without him here with us.”
Camille Reyes, APU Junior
“Initially when I first heard about it, I was in disbelief. I got a text from a friend in our group message in the middle of church. Once I started to look into it more I began to cry and anxiety rushed through my body. I stood up and began to worship with everybody else at Fellowship as tears came down my face and my body was shaking. The moment the world heard about Kobe passing is a moment they will never forget. Nobody will forget who they were with, where they were at, or what emotions they felt.
My family grew up in LA so I naturally became a die-hard Lakers fan. I’ve been repping the purple and gold ever since I could remember. My fondest memories are watching the games with my family and celebrating Kobe and the Lakers organization’s accomplishments. The first and last game I went to was back in 2009 against the Golden State Warriors with my dad. We sat in the second row behind Jack Nicholson, and many other celebrities sat amongst us that night. It was a moment I will forever cherish with my dad and will never take for granted. My dad and my love for the Lakers was a common thread that tied our hearts together.
Hearing that Gigi passed away with her dad in that helicopter crash made it hurt even more. Gigi was Kobe’s legacy, she was about to be the best in the WNBA. They had a common passion and love for basketball. It was very evident post-retirement when he began teaching and coaching her. I can only imagine what their last moments were like together as he was probably holding her tight in his arms, telling her how much he loved her. Kobe was there for Gigi’s first and last breath.
The death of Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba, the GOAT is a tragic loss that the whole world mourns. I pray for peace and strength for Vanessa and her family. I also acknowledge the other people on the helicopter that lost their lives as well. I pray that their families can find healing and courage to push through these hard times. Kobe Bryant was an icon that inspired the world. His spirit and mamba mentality will live in forever.”
Gillian Day, APU Senior
“In the sixth grade, I went to my first Lakers game for my birthday. After we won, I waited around with my brother and cousin, hoping that Kobe would pass by. Twenty minutes of standing around had passed, and I saw him walking in my direction. I reached my hand out and he gave me a quick high-five; I was in absolute awe. I didn’t even want to wash my hands! That was my first memory of him. Since then, I knew I was going to be a Laker fan for life.
Yesterday I cried about four different times, and I couldn’t really process what had happened. It seemed silly to cry over someone who never knew me, but it was a ridiculous thought for me to not grieve over someone who made such an impact on my life. Because of him, I fell in love with the beautiful game of basketball. I literally joined a “co-ed” basketball team and refused to leave despite me being the only girl. I discovered a way to have fun, while simultaneously find rest. I built a forever and always tradition with my father. He taught me to “love the hate” and expect greatness from myself. This was a tough one, but I will keep Kobe and Gigi in my heart forever.
Cameron Kerr, Los Angeles Resident
“I’ve always admired Kobe Bryant’s work ethic since I was five-years-old. I idolized him. Everyone has their superhero. I’m 24-years-old now and my superhero is still Kobe Bryant. I was in shock when I heard about the tragedy. I thought if anyone is jumping out of a helicopter on their two feet holding his daughter tight it would be Kobe. His work ethic is absolutely unmatched, but I try my best to imitate it. I will not take credit away from my family and friends; however, Kobe has also taught me at a young age that you can become anything and accomplish any goals if you just put the work into it.
There have been countless times where I wanted to give up, not continue school, perhaps find a job just so I can settle. He taught me that all the days and nights I dedicated to study and work will pay off in the future. I always focused on the end goal, the destination. I finally learned when I was 23 that it’s not the case. It’s the journey that means everything. It’s how you get there and appreciate your own work that you put it in. Enjoy life.
I think the most important thing he taught me was to find my purpose in life and I did. I’m a few years away but I plan to become a Neuro Pharmacist and I want to treat patients that have epilepsy, depression, anxiety, etc. I’m continuing to work extremely hard so I get to this point. Not only having your purpose in life. But love what you do. I’m in love with the career I am pursuing. He taught me that it’s so important to wake up and be excited to go to work. So many other things matter in my life, but for me personally, just a sense of purpose in this world and doing what you love every day, that is my dream. Kobe truly inspired me and I wish I could just thank him for the significant impact he has made in my life.
Lastly, I never took anything for granted, but he and the other lives that were lost reminded me that life is extremely fragile. I chose to live a little differently after the tragedy. Love a little more and let the little things go. I [can] also admit I let school and work get the best of me at times. Sometimes my priorities are a little mixed up when it comes to my personal life. I promised myself to be better at approaching people and just letting my family and friends know how much they mean to me.”
Adrian Barajas, Los Angeles Resident
“Kobe was so much more than just basketball to me. Sure that’s where it started, but [it] was just the beginning of how he impacted my life. I picked up the game of basketball as a young kid and enjoyed it as I did all sports, I was an athlete. But it wasn’t until watching Kobe [that] I fell in love with the game. “The game”… that goes far deeper than just enjoying playing or watching it. It’s because of Kobe that I fell in love with it by studying the game as he did. I would watch him and have to learn everything he was doing.
I would practice every day, and I mean every day, no days off. I would literally shoot hundreds of shots every day until I got really good at it, but that wasn’t enough. Kobe could use both [his] right and left hands to play, so I decided I also had to. So for a couple of months, I did everything left-handed to teach myself to use my left. And I did. I wanted to put in the work that I knew he was doing, to say that I was outworking everyone else. So when it was raining outside, I knew no one would be playing, so I went outside and shot jumpers so I could say, rain or shine, I’m putting in the work. When the fires burned the mountains back in 2003 and school was canceled for a week because there was too much ash falling. I knew no one was outside playing, so I went outside and took shots so I could say, ‘yup, fires aren’t stopping me either.’ And when the winter came and it was snowing at my house, yup I was out there again because I wanted the same drive Kobe did. So fast forward years later, I have never played in organized basketball, just pick up games but I didn’t care, those games were my NBA and I treated the game as Kobe had showed me so many times, with respect so I played hard no matter what. I never thought I would not be playing basketball because as the saying goes, “ball was life”. But knowing I would never be a professional ballplayer I had more ambitions in life and this part of life was where I learned that the mamba mentality went well beyond the court.
I was married and just had a baby, but I wasn’t completely happy with my life. I didn’t feel like a true purpose. It wasn’t until then did I realize the bigger point of what Kobe’s messages always was. It was to find your true passion and go after it. That’s where true happiness lies, that’s what will keep you grinding even when it gets really tough. The passion is what drives you and doesn’t allow you to quit. But the key ingredient that most people miss is not what you want but what you are willing to do for it, what sacrifices will be required of it. A little secret, none of them are easy, as they should be. But even more so it about being the best version of your true self. Not what anyone else wants you to be. Not your parents, not your friends, not your spouse and not even your kids. So as I found my passion and have gone all in, I found myself struggling a bit with the balance of the two most important things, my family and my passion. And once again, Kobe’s example was there.
I got his book “Mamba Mentality,” and [it contains] so much knowledge of the game and different aspects of it, but the thing that stood out to me and is engraved in my mind was when he talked about his family and passion and how he balanced the two. And as Kobe was, his answer was different from the normal ones, he used the analogy of a tight rope and using a balancing pole. You use it to balance one side when the other is tipping too far. So when he would be too much on the passion he would move more towards family and vice versa. And then he said that he wasn’t willing to sacrifice either of the two, so he sacrificed himself. He slept less and adapted. I was so happy to learn this and applied it immediately, which sleep was already something I didn’t get much of and was able to function on about 3-4 hours daily. So I learned so much from Kobe from the age of 10 years old to a grown man of 32 years. So Kobe was so much more than basketball to me, he was my first mentor and is responsible for me feeling that it was okay to want more for myself and build a drive in me that never wants to quit. I will miss you so much Kobe ,and will keep the Mamba Mentality strong and going through my generations.
Bryce Ronquillo, APU Senior
It was a normal Sunday I worked that morning then went to church and during the service my phone kept going off. I was thinking to myself ‘who is blowing up my phone?’ and when I saw the article and text messages from friends I instantly fell into shock. I try to compare it to other times a famous person I knew had died like Michael Jackson or Nipsey Hustle but they can’t compare.
I grew up in a Laker household so Kobe was always on the TV. Every night it seemed like he was doing something out of the ordinary. He was just different.
Now that he is gone along with eight other precious lives, I’m reminded every day how short life is. And how while we are here we should praise God for every minute we get to live. Kobe lived his life to a certain standard of ‘greatness.’ I would like to honor that by holding myself to that same standard, and living life to be great in everything that I do.
My favorite Kobe moment has to be his game-winner vs. the Phoenix Suns in the 06 playoffs. I remember that moment so vividly. My grandma, my aunt and I were jumping up and down, hugging and screaming. It was as clutch of a shot as you’ll ever see and it’s a memory I’ll never forget.