Kobe Bryant: Bigger Than Basketball

Demez White | 1/31/2020, 3:46 a.m.
On a foggy Sunday morning in the hills of one of the most beautiful suburbs in LA three families were ...

On a foggy Sunday morning in the hills of one of the most beautiful suburbs in LA three families were taking their daughters to play in a basketball game. Along for the ride were an assistant basketball coach and the pilot. For reasons we don’t yet know the plane crashed and everyone on board died. An entire community devastated for what was supposed to be just another afternoon ride like they have done time and time before.

But this ride would be different.

This ride would be etched in the minds of millions and leave the world in shock and sorrow.

Kobe and Giana Bryant (An NBA legend and humanitarian, his daughter)

John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli (A legendary junior college baseball coach with ties to the University of Houston, his wife, and daughter)

Christina Mauser (A woman’s basketball coach)

Ara Zobayan (The pilot)

Sarah and Payton Chester (A mother and daughter)

Parents, daughters, coaches, and a pilot were all gone in a split second. Parents, children, and loved ones waiting at the sports complex for the helicopter carrying those nine individuals to arrive got news they never will forget. “We regret to inform you that your loved ones have perished in a helicopter crash.” Denial sets in first. Then unbelievable pain as reality comes into focus. Shock takes over as one replays the last moments in their head to make sure this was not a dream. Finally, acceptance creeps in as tears begin to fall and questions that will never have answers begin to form.

“Why them?”

”Why now?”

“Why so soon?”

“Why, why, and why?”

The “whys” come from the families, the friends, the colleagues, and the world. School officials try explain to young minds not yet developed enough to understand the meaning of death. Friends and colleagues try to comprehend what happened while families are just numb to it all. Families from the same community are broken.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The day was just an ordinary Sunday for me. I took pleasure in watching my son play on the floor with his toys. I watched my wife prepare for an interview later that evening. The dogs were running around, the sun was shining, and I was getting things lit on the grill as I prepared meat to go on the pit. Playing in the background was a college basketball game when was Sunday was interrupted. Big as day across my cell screen on TMZ’s twitter feed were the words, “Kobe Bryant dies in a helicopter crash.”

But that can’t be, right? That can’t be real? He’s Kobe, the KOBE, Kobe doesn’t die, he goes on to build movie studios or buy professional basketball teams. He watches his daughter take women’s basketball to another level. I rubbed my eyes to refocus them and I take another look at my phone.

“Kobe Bryant and Rick Fox die in a helicopter crash?” I say to myself.

Rick Fox? Rick Fox and Kobe together? Wait! I look to see my wife, who is always up on entertainment news, looking puzzled at the distraught look on my face, “What’s going on she asks?” I show her my phone, she puts her hand over her mouth, grabs her own phone, and we both shared the same flustered look.

“Oh my GOD, they’re saying all his daughters were on the plane!” We scroll social media feeds looking for information, we turn on the news for confirmation. All the news is scattered with differentiating details except one.

Kobe Bryant is dead at 41.

Is this real?

At some point, the realization sets in that Kobe Bryant, superstar player for the Los Angeles Lakers, is, in fact, dead.

Rick Fox tweets he isn’t dead. More details emerge. It’s not Kobe’s entire family, which one can be grateful for, but that is nothing to celebrate but rather something to which to be grateful. However, one of Bryant princesses is gone, the one that loved basketball, Giana.

A girl and her dad

Giana, the middle child with the Mamba mentality, was the one to carry on the baller legacy. She reintroduced her dad to basketball and gave him a new reason to love the game. She was the one he traveled with, trained, coached, and the one who was most like him. He wore #24 and as a chip off the old block she dropped the #4 to just wear #2. She wanted to be just like him and he wanted her to be better than him. We will never know her true potential. We will never see her wear that #2 Husky jersey (Uconn was her favorite college team). We will never know her other talents for young Giana would die alongside her father on the way to do something she loved and what they shared.

Play in a basketball game.

The Bryant Family

The Bryant Family

The husband, The father, The man

The journalist in me knows I should tell you about all his basketball accomplishments. I should talk about my favorite moment on the court when I knew he was my favorite player. I should recall the championships, the awards, and other accolades but that was just a portion of the man that a giant for more than basketball. The points, awards, and accomplishments seemed bigger than life only to seem insignificant now.

I watched an interview he gave to high school kids when he was maybe twenty-one years old. He told them how he defined success - working hard, finding a woman that you love, and having a family that loves you back. One of the kids laughed and told him that made him soft. Kobe laughed back and told him, “I’d still whip your ass on the court.”

Those weren’t just words he said. That was his mantra. He married the love of his life, Vanessa, and though some of their struggles were public knowledge they stayed the course and created four beautiful daughters. His life with Vanessa and his daughters was everything to him. In fact, it was one of the reasons he traveled by helicopter. He wanted to train like a beast but still wanted to take and pick his daughters up from school. For ten years or more he’s been on helicopters flying around LA like the Superman he was.

Kobe represents greatness to me. He was willing to walk away from everything after winning three straight titles because he knew his legacy wasn’t complete unless he did it without Shaq. He lost games and won games but didn’t stop until he was a champion again.

As men, we aren’t supposed to be emotional, especially not about a basketball player that we only know from watching him on television. However, finding out Kobe died hurt me in a way that has only hurt when I lost someone I loved.

I won’t apologize for being a fan, for appreciating greatness, for celebrating his Oscar win like it was for all of us. Read the Instagram captions, read the articles, listen to the stories - He was an amazing man. A man that lived his life without fear of failure, a man that was kind and courteous to everyone he came across.

He wasn’t on a helicopter with an entourage or a security team. He wasn’t on his way to Vegas or the Grammy’s. He was on a helicopter with coaches and parents who had a vast love for their children on a Sunday morning going to support their kids at an AAU basketball game. Listen to him talk about his daughter, listen to him talk about his players, listen to the way he spoke about his daughter and listen to the love in all the answers.

His love for his children was great. In my heart, I believe his love for Vanessa was even greater because she gave him that those girls he adored. I can’t begin to imagine how she feels now. You lose a husband; a daughter and you have three other daughters at home that you have to explain why daddy and their sister are not coming home. They don’t understand what’s going on or the concept of death. You must be their rock of understanding, support, and love. The world is expecting you to be Jackie Kennedy, the gracious grieving window when all you want to do is close your eyes, shut them out and hope what you are going through is just a very bad nightmare.

Vanessa doesn’t owe us anything. Instead, we owe her. We owe her thanks for all those nights Kobe shared with us while missing out on quality family time. We owe a debt of gratitude for all those times Kobe inspired our children instead of spending time with his own.

I’m thirty-six years old. Kobe was forty-one. This isn’t a case of me idolizing a man; this is the case of me being proud of one. Kobe Bryant was one-of-a-kind.

A boy that had to learn how to be a man on camera;

A husband that had to learn how to love his wife in front of the world;

A once in a lifetime father that sometimes had to put his career before family;

A basketball great that made us believe we could do whatever it was we wanted to do in this world.

At the tragic end of Kobe’s life, he was just beginning to start the next chapter of his life with his philanthropic efforts. He was showing us that he was more than just basketball. He was revealing his true character and grit proving that Kobe Bryant was bigger than basketball itself.

Long live the legend of Kobe Bryant.

Rest in peace Kobe, Giana, John, Keri, Alyssa, Christina, Sarah, Payton, and Ara.