The Earth seemingly stopped rotating on the morning of Jan. 26 as we all learned that retired LA Lakers star, Kobe Bryant, was killed in a helicopter crash. And as updates started to pour in that his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna aka “GiGi,” perished alongside her dad, hearts broke for the Bryant family and the families of the seven other people who were also killed.
It was a day many of us will never forget.
Bryant, 41, and eight others were traveling on his private helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76, to a basketball tournament at Mamba Academy, a school in Thousand Oaks Bryant co-founded.
Authorities confirmed the weather that morning – thick with fog — was not ideal for flying. The Los Angeles Police Department said the visibility was so poor, it decided to ground its fleet of helicopters.
Bryant’s personal pilot, Ara Zobayan, had more than 20 years of flight experience and expert knowledge of flying in inclement weather, but sometime after the last contact with air traffic controllers at 9:45 a.m., the aircraft slammed into a hillside at 1,085 feet, killing everyone on board.
Among the dead were John Altobelli, a University of Houston graduate and current head coach of the Orange Coast College Pirates, his wife, Keri, and youngest daughter, Alyssa.
Payton Chester, 13; her mother, Sarah, and Christina Glauser, the Mamba’s coach, also died.
Federal officials are not expected to determine the exact cause of the accident for months.
A true legend
Bryant was born in Philadelphia, Pa. He is the youngest of three children and the only son of former NBA player Joe Bryant and Pamela Cox Bryant.
The “Black Mamba,” as he is called, earned national recognition during a spectacular high school career at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa.
Bryant received several awards for his outstanding performance during his senior year including, Naismith High School Player of the Year, Gatorade Men’s National Basketball Player of the Year, a McDonald’s All-American, first-team Parade All-American and a USA Today All-USA First Team player.
Bryant was selected 13th overall in the NBA Draft by the Charlotte Hornets, but was traded to the Lakers where he spent his entire 20-year basketball career.
Bryant is a 5-time NBA Champion, 2-time NBA Finals MVP, NBA Most Valuable player, 2-time scoring champion, 18-time NBA All-Star, 4-time NBA All Star MVP, 15-time All-NBA team, 12-time All-Defensive team and 2-time Best ESPY NBA Player Award.
Bryant also became the first basketball player to win an NBA title and an Academy Award.
The ‘doting dad’ in his ‘second act’ of life
No matter how you felt about Bryant’s on-the-court demeanor, it was indisputable that he was one heck of a father. The ‘doting dad” was the proud father of four girls; Gianna, Natalia, Bianca and newborn Capri, whom he shared with his loving wife, Vanessa.
It was the special relationship he shared with his “chip off the old block” GiGi that had recently captured headlines before their untimely deaths.
GiGi was a basketball enthusiast and was being groomed by her dad, and had impressive moves for a girl her age. Basketball was embedded in her DNA and many speculated she was well on her way to play in the WNBA when she got older.
Viral videos spread with GiGi blocking and scoring on her dad, in addition to a multitude of photos of the two of them at arenas enjoying basketball games together. “The Black Mamba” proudly named GiGi his “Mambacita.”
President Barack Obama tweeted, “Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act. To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Bryant was soaring in his post-basketball life. In addition to coaching his daughter’s team, he won an Oscar as a producer, launched a media company and wrote several books.
His first book was a basketball memoir called “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” which entered the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list at No. 8 and ranked in the top 150 for eight weeks.
He also recently started a Young Adult book series, called “The Wizenard Series,” in collaboration with author Wesley King.
“I was fortunate to retire from the game and find something I love to do and that is the art of storytelling. There is nothing like having a blank page and outlining a story, a world, a character,” Bryant told Forbes. “What is it going to look like, how does that come together? There is nothing more fun to me than doing this.”
A champion, a philanthropist and a true icon in his own right. Kobe Bryant, African-American News&Issues salutes you.