By Jonathan Pressley
Like the rest of the world, FSW was heartbroken when basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, and two of her teammates died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26.
“I lost it when I first heard the news. But what really completely broke me is the father daughter dynamic,” said assistant FSW women’s basketball coach Rabun Wright. She used to take trips with her father to basketball games.
“When I think about how many trips my father and I have shared over the years, on the way to a gym… It absolutely breaks me, to think about their final moments together.”
The helicopter crash in Calabasas, California claimed nine lives including Bryant and his daughter.
Gianna Bryant was a basketball player at Mamba Sports Academy who was already on the radar of national women’s powerhouse UConn.
Among this tragedy was baseball coach of 27 years John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their daughter, Alyssa, Gianna’s best friend and teammate.
Mother and daughter Sarah and Payton Chester, assistant coach Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayam died in the crash.
“My brain still refuses to accept the fact that this tragedy really happened,” said Wright. “The world might have not stopped spinning, but it has definitely slowed down.”
Professional athletes often sacrifice family time for their careers. In his retirement, Bryant was finally a full-time father, even coaching Gianna’s basketball team.
He left behind three daughters and a wife.
Bryant was on his way to Gianna’s basketball game when the helicopter crashed. To know that the Altobelli’s family, the Chester’s family, the Mauser’s family, and the Zobayan’s family, will never be whole again is heartbreaking in itself.
As a father, a brother and a son, my heart still aches. FSW aches. The world aches.
“[I] didn’t really know how to feel at first, just total shock, I was devastated after hearing the news … [I] didn’t want to believe it at first, but after seeing social media and all the news coverage I had to accept it,” said assistant men’s basketball coach Kente Hart.
Bryant came into the league straight out of high school in 1996 and became an all-star after only his second season.
During his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, Bryant won five NBA championships, a league NBA MVP in 2008, and NBA Finals MVP in 2009 and 2010.
Bryant also won gold medals as a member of the U.S. men’s basketball team in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
He retired in 2016 just to win an Academy Award in 2018 for his animated short film “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem he wrote in 2015.
“I remember the first time I read ‘Dear Basketball,’ and shed a tear because of how many times I myself had sat down and wrote a letter or poem to the sport that changed my life,” said Wright about the connection. “I felt like someone understood me. That it’s not crazy to love a sport the way that I did, that it wasn’t ‘just a game’ that lacked meaning, and that the passion I felt for it was real and worthy.”
His legend continued to blossom past basketball; his passion became contagious.
“Kobe used basketball in a way that built, bonded & gave pride to an entire city. He used it in a way that inspired generations of athletes to be better. He left his mark on the entire world,” said Wright on Facebook two days after the crash. “So yes, basketball, is ‘technically’ just a game. But is it really? If one man, his love for the game, and his work ethic to be the best, can literally change people’s lives, and inspire greatness, shouldn’t we just embrace and admit how powerful this sport really is?”
In 2018, Bryant wrote his book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” talking about what pushed him to be great.
“His mentality, his drive and work ethic, was something I always tried to imitate,” said Wright. “Good wasn’t good enough, he aspired to greatness. Average wasn’t even an option. Seizing every single moment of not only each and every game, but each day, and all the moments that make up a day.”
Bryant called himself the “Black Mamba” from ’03 to ‘04. Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” inspired the name when the protagonist killed a target with the namesake snake. Bryant had killer instincts on the court, no hesitation, willing-to-take-the-last-shot attitude.
The name came during one of the athlete’s darkest career stages when a woman accused him of sexual assault in ‘03.
During his autobiographical documentary “Muse,” Bryant revealed he created Black Mamba as an alter-ego to play the game while he manage his struggles off the court. The charge was dropped and settled in civil court.
“I had to separate myself… It felt like there were so many things coming at once. It was just becoming very, very confusing. I had to organize things. So, I created the Black Mamba,” Bryant said in “Muse.”
His message is one everyone can aspire to, whether student, athlete, teacher, professor, father, son, daughter, or mother.
Push yourself to be great, never settle for average, pursue the Mamba mentality.
“Mamba mentality is a constant quest to find answers. It’s that infinite curiosity to want to be better, to figure things out. Mamba mentality is you’re going, you’re competing, you’re not worried about the end result,” Bryant said in his ‘17 Nike campaign.
“You’re not worried about what people may say. You’re not worried about disappointing others. You’re not worried about any of that, you’re just focused on being in the moment.
That’s what Mamba mentality truly is.”
Fans gathered around Staples Center in California to pay respect to the “House that Kobe built.” NBA teams paid respects on the basketball courts by committing a 24-second violation, and another 8-second half court violation to pay respect to the two numbers Bryant wore.
In Manila, Philippines, a gym built in Bryant’s honor in 2016 held a memorial. In Bhubaneswar, India, artist Sudarsan Pattnaik sand sculpted Kobe on Puri Beach. Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios wore a number 8 Lakers jersey during the 2020 Australian Open in Melbourne.
Former Bucs forward Maddox Daniels, now playing for Colorado Buffaloes, shared on his Instagram what Kobe Bryant meant to him.
“Kobe was a warrior grounded in his passion for progression, loving wisdom, and burning flame of inspiration that touched so many… Especially all of us who played the game of basketball. His eternal soul lives on and his earthly legacy will continue to push us all to achieve self-mastery in this life.”
Thank you Kobe Bryant. You will be forever missed.