Things were not supposed to end like this. The Kobe Bryant story was not supposed to end at 41. The Gianna Bryant story was certainly not supposed to end at 13. The stories of John, Keri, and Alyssa Antobelli; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan were not supposed to end the morning of January 26, 2020. And yet, tragically, they did.
Kobe Bryant was known all around the world. Kobe set records and went at opponents with tenacity. He was a fantastic basketball player, a charismatic celebrity, and spokesperson for the game. He was under the bright lights of basketball arenas for 20 years. He traveled the world as one of the faces of the NBA and made fans everywhere he went. The basketball world lost an icon.
Husband and Father
The world may have known him as a Laker but he was also a husband and a father. As crushing a blow as this may have been for the basketball world, his family has to be absolutely devastated. His wife Vanessa stood by his side through the ups and downs, the good times and the bad. She now faces a future as a mother without the support of a loving father to her children and must mourn the loss of one of her daughters without the shoulder of her husband—her best friend.
His daughters will now continue without their father and without one of their sisters. Gianna perished alongside her father. Her dreams of playing in the WNBA cut short. Her sisters now must press on without her. Natalia, the oldest, will have the most memories of her father and be charged with teaching her younger sisters about him. Her burden will be the constant reminder of the hole in her heart at each major achievement of her life. Bianka knows enough to understand her father is missing. Capri, the youngest at only seven months will never know her father. As a father of two beautiful daughters myself, this is the most painful part of this tragedy. I can only hope Kobe and Gianna’s spirits give them the strength to persevere through all of this.
Los Angeles Ambassador
His family knew Kobe better than all of us, of course. But the outpouring of support and tears in Los Angeles proves many people here felt connected to Kobe despite never meeting the man. All of us who live in Los Angeles understand the Mamba Mentality. That mentality is absolutely necessary in a city that places so many obstacles before you. People here work multiple jobs and side hustles to find a taste of success. Kobe Bryant embodied the work so many of us understand is necessary to achieve our goals. That is why Angelenos looked up to him and the reason Los Angeles feels shattered after this loss.
I am one of those many who felt a deep connection to Bryant. To me, Kobe was family. Kobe played his first game as a Laker November 3, 1996. He was only 18 years old with dreams of taking over the NBA. I was 16 at the time. My brother and mentor, 19. We followed Bryant from the very beginning and watched him grow into a man as we were doing the same. As the years passed and our younger brothers started paying attention, they too formed their own bonds with Kobe and the Lakers. With adulthood came the various complications of life. Long distances, disagreements, and personal struggles sometimes formed wedges in our relationships. Kobe was always there to bring us together. Regardless of what was happening in our lives, we could set everything aside to talk about his last game; win or lose.
In 2009, my older brother lost his life after a battle with a rare disease. We were all lost without him when he passed but we had one thing to bring us together and help us heal: sport. Sport was a way of life for us. We watched it and we played it. We played catch during family get-togethers, we played baseball in parking lots and football in the street. But the playground was for basketball. Basketball kept the family bond alive and Kobe somehow became the spiritual connection to our fallen brother. As the years passed, watching Kobe on the court always reminded me of him. When the news of Kobe’s passing came out, it was like losing my brother all over again. Every painful feeling was present again. As the week went on, moments of anger, emptiness, and grief would strike at random moments. I would be in front of my computer at work and start crying out of the blue.
Friday, January 31 was to be the first game for the Lakers after the horrific crash. I started that morning with a visit to the beautiful impromptu shrine outside Staples Center and L.A. Live. I walked around taking pictures, reading notes, absorbing moments, and reflecting on all of it. As we move forward as a city, it’s Kobe’s work ethic that I take with me as I’ve done throughout my life. It is his Mamba Mentality that helped mold me into the person I am today. It will be what pushes me through this time and it will be what guides me the rest of the way. Kobe, I thank you for growing up before us, showing us the massive amount of work required to achieve your goals, and inspiring us to do the same in our own lives. Please know you will be missed but never forgotten. Mamba forever.