Thinking of Kobe, Gianna & the victims of the Calabasas helicopter crash

The world stood still on the morning of Jan. 26, 2020, when news broke of a Calabasas helicopter crash that killed nine people. Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Sarah and Payton Chester, Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and Daughter Alyssa, Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna all lost their lives to the tragedy. 

I had the same reaction as many others. It just couldn’t be true.

Kobe Bryant seemed invincible. He was a 6-foot-6 superhero who brought five NBA championships to Los Angeles in his 20 seasons as a Laker, made 18 All-Star appearances and dropped 60 points in his final game. Kobe retired with a record $680 million in career earnings and won an Oscar in 2018 for his best animated short, “Dear Basketball.”

Kobe Bryant
Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant with daughter Gianna at the 2019 WNBA All-Star Game. Photo by William Johnson

He’d started his own content company, Granity Studios, created his own business, Kobe Inc., and become a successful investor in the “BodyArmor” sports drink, all while raising four daughters – Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri – alongside his wife of almost 19 years, Vanessa.

Gianna Bryant also had a passion for hoops and looked to be well on her way to continuing her father’s legacy. Gianna was reportedly interested in playing for the legendary UConn women’s basketball program, a goal she’d been working towards under Kobe’s tootildge for years.

The thought that the lives of Kobe and Gianna, in addition to the seven other victims of the crash, could be cut short so abruptly has been jarring for everyone. LeBron James just passed Kobe for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list on Jan. 25 in Philadelphia, where the Mamba’s Lower Merion High School is located. Kobe even tweeted at LeBron late that night, congratulating him on “continuing to move the game forward.”

Our time on this Earth is so precious and can end in an instant, even for the world’s biggest icons. While the suffering and grief from this tragedy will stay fresh throughout the days, weeks, months and years to come, it’s important to celebrate and honor the lives of those who aren’t physically with us any longer. Kobe was a big proponent of chasing after what you love and not letting anything stop you from reaching your biggest aspirations. So, let’s embrace the Mamba Mentality and push forward. 

It’s the best way to honor those we’ve lost. It’s important to remember that right now, more than ever, with these tragic deaths. 

Kobe’s legacy lives on through people who choose to embrace the Mamba Mentality, like the Atlanta Hawks’ Tre Young and Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker. Wearing a No. 8 jersey on Jan. 26, Young scored 45 points on 24 shots. Booker posted 36 points Sunday night and surpassed Kobe as the youngest guard to score 7,000 points Tuesday night.

Leading the way: Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant means business about trying to get homeless young people off the streets. Photo: Dennis J. Freeman

I’ll close with a quick anecdote about a personal experience I had with Kobe.

On Dec. 29, 2019, I covered my first Laker game. They beat Dallas by 13 and held Luka Doncic to 5-of-14 shooting. Anthony Davis scored 23 points, but – by far – the night’s greatest ovation went to Kobe, who sat courtside with Gianna. 

When taking the hockey press box elevator down to the event level and turning left to approach the postgame press conference room at Staples, one of the main tunnels that leads to the court is visible. As I walked past the tunnel, Kobe and Gianna were escorted out by security. A barrage of fans followed them. I directly crossed paths with Kobe and Gianna. 

Doing my best to act like I’d been there before, I looked straight into the floor. Holding my credential in my hand, I glanced up for a moment to find Kobe looking directly at me. It’s almost like he wondered who this 5-foot-6 young reporter was, and what he was doing wandering towards the Laker locker room. He smiled at me for a brief moment, as if to say, “hey, you got this kid.”

I walked into my first-ever Frank Vogel press conference, sat in the first row and asked the last question of the presser. I can’t explain it, but it’s like I received a cool sense of confidence after being smiled at by Kobe Bryant.

That’s the power Kobe had. He was the perfect blend of Philadelphia and Hollywood, a hard-working assassin with the charisma and smile of a veteran L.A. movie star. Kobe was bigger than basketball. He was bigger than life itself.

That’s why his legacy, and his impact, won’t ever fade. Legends aren’t ever really gone. 

Especially not Kobe Bryant.

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