It’s one of those where were you when you found out type of moments. For some it seems like yesterday and for others an eternity. But one full year has now passed since the tragic events of January 26, 2020 in which fathers, mothers, siblings, children and coaches were taken from us far too soon. In this unthinkable and unimaginable event, basketball legend Kobe Bryant (41) was killed, along with his daughter Gianna (13). The losses of two other players, Alyssa Altobelli (14) and Payton Chester (13) , their parents John (56) and Keri Altobelli (46), Sarah Chester (45), assistant coach Christina Mauser (38) and pilot Ara Zobayan (50) are also just as horrific and saddening. My intention for writing this is not to re-traumatize any of the loved ones of the people they lost but to pay tribute and respect to their memory and legacies.
Of course, the world knows Kobe Bryant as one of the greatest athletes of all time. A 20 year career with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers was as storied as it gets in which the “Black Mamba” won an MVP award, was selected to the all star game 18 times and of course collected 5 championships. The cultural impact Kobe has on the world has not wavered and his iconic legacy will live on always, even if it’s just saying “Kobe” when shooting a paper ball in the trash or cracking a joke on not passing the ball. But Bryant’s legacy goes beyond what he did on the basketball court. We can’t forget the lessons Kobe left us with in the famous Mamba Mentality, the drive to be the best you can be at your own craft no matter what it takes. In his years after basketball, Kobe became a philanthropist, a storyteller, an author and a businessman among many other ventures. Most importantly though, he was a son to Joe and Pam, brother to Sharia and Shaya, husband to Vanessa and a father to Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and Capri. As a family man, Kobe was described as a doting father and devoted husband by his widow. His love of his daughters sparked the beginning of a movement for the importance of the father-daughter relationship after his death, as the hashtag “GirlDad” trended for months. Passing along with Kobe that day was his thirteen year old daughter Gianna, a basketball prodigy herself. Commonly known as Gigi, she truly inherited those famous basketball skills from her father as her highlights on Youtube have over 12 million views. Clearly, she was more than ready to carry the torch as the Mambacita and looked forward to playing college basketball at UCONN and eventually the WNBA.
Also lost on this horrifying day were three members of the Altobelli family. John Altobelli had been the head coach for the Orange Coast college baseball team for over 30 years, winning 4 league championships. Not only this, but he was a brother to six siblings, a son and a father to JJ, Alexis and Alyssa. His wife Keri also passed in the accident and his 14 year old daughter Alyssa, one of the star players on Team Mamba whom shared a WNBA dream with her teammate. Another one of the top players on the team with eyes on the pros was Payton Chester, who passed with her mother Sarah as well leaving behind her husband Chris and sons Hayden and Riley. Coach Christina Mauser, hand picked by Bryant for her cunning basketball mind, is missed by her husband Matt and her three kids Penny, Thomas and Ivy. The pilot Ara Zobayan is survived by his siblings, longtime girlfriend and two adoptive kids.
Unfortunately, we still don’t know much on what went wrong on that helicopter ride. While the cause of the crash remains officially undetermined, experts believe low visibility due to thick fog was the most relevant factor leading to the devastating outcome. The scientific term commonly used has been spatial disorientation which means the pilot was so enveloped in bad weather that he could not tell which direction the aircraft was heading and could not receive any help from air traffic control, as the helicopter had been intentionally flying very low for better navigation in the poor conditions. After the aircraft came down around 9:45 AM western time, nearby witnesses notified authorities who responded to the scene. No one survived. Around 11:30 was when the first reports of the crash came out, confirming the death of only Kobe Bryant at first before more details were found out. In the months since, investigations into the crash and legislation to prevent another accident like this have been launched and continue to be ongoing.
Reactions to the news were met with utter disbelief, total heartbreak and the painful question of why. Fans created an impromptu memorial for Bryant outside the Staples Center, the home of the Lakers for most of Bryant’s career, bringing candles, pictures, handwritten messages, basketballs and more. The Altobelli family received a similar honoring outside Angel Stadium in Anaheim. Millions of people offered tributes of remembrance to Bryant, his daughter and the others lost in the time that followed including his widow Vanessa, former teammate Shaquille O’Neal, close friends Pau Gasol and LeBron James and the entirety of the NBA family as teams took 8 and 24 second violations in their games the next few days, honoring Bryant’s jersey numbers he wore as a player. The NBA also renamed the all star game MVP award in Bryant’s honor as well as incorporate him and Gigi’s memory into the 2020 edition, in which one team all wore the number 24 and the other the number 2, which was Gianna’s jersey number. Murals of the victims have been painted all over the Los Angeles area and the world for that matter, highlighting Kobe’s bond with his daughter and the aforementioned “GirlDad” movement. The Los Angeles Lakers also paid tribute to the victims in the only way that Kobe would know how, by capturing the franchise’s record tying 17th championship in October
A year has passed and with all of the unprecedented craziness that has happened in these last 365 days, this still doesn’t feel real. Somebody like Kobe Bryant feels superhuman to all of us and when the news came that he was no longer here, it came as a shock to all of us that this seemingly immortal figure could be gone so suddenly. For the families and friends of the people that were lost, we must continue to rally around and support them. Grief is a very hard feeling to traverse and it doesn’t get any easier. This loss was powerful for so many not just because of the fact that a legend like Bryant had passed, but the fact that children, who were just beginning their lives, perished before they could live them. I believe I speak for all of us here at Phenom but also for fans around the world that the respect and privacy of those affected by this tragedy needs to be recognized, but the love and support for those people must not waver. Once again I write this with the meaning not of to remind us all of these terrible events but to ensure these lives are not forgotten. The pain that we feel is nothing compared to the loved ones of those lost. I myself marvel at the strength of these people, who have gone through the toughest year of their lives and I continue to be inspired by their resilience. Maybe the most important lesson we could all takeaway from the horrible events from a year ago can be to always cherish what we have, and don’t take anything for granted because any second, it could be gone. This is best summed up in a tweet sent by ESPN sportscaster Matt Barrie in immediate reaction to the horrible news last year.
“A wife lost her husband. A mother lost her daughter. Sisters lost their sister. Parents lost their son. The world lost an icon. This matters. Loss matters. Pain matters. Things we can’t have back matter. Most of the b******* we think matters, doesn’t.”
May all of those lost rest in peace and please keep their loved ones in your thoughts and prayers. If you would like to help the victims families in response to the tragedy, please visit mambaonthree.org to donate.
Image: USA Today