On the morning of Sunday, January 26, the world tragically lost a well-known public figure in Kobe Bryant. The “Black Mamba” was known to many as a basketball star, to others as a voice of reason, and to plenty as a father – or “girl dad,” as Bryant liked to call it. Although owning many league and franchise records, the 41-year-old did, however, have his fair share of doubters, critics, and naysayers.
The story of Kobe Bryant is one of an immediate rise to stardom, some discouraging, drawn-out, personal struggles with the law, followed by a long-lasting legacy, all before an early, unexpected, tragic death, alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna (Gigi).
Kobe and Gigi Bryant left their Newport Beach home just after 6:00 AM Sunday and made their way to the Cathedral of Our Lady Queen of Angels for a morning prayer chapel, before participating in 7:00 am Catholic Mass and receiving communion. From there, the two met up with a few of Gigi’s teammates, parents and coaches at John Wayne Airport in Orange County before loading into a Sikorsky S-76B helicopter shortly after 9:00 AM for a Mamba Sports Academy tournament in Thousand Oaks.
The first 9-1-1 call from the Calabasas crash site came at 9:47 AM, where all nine passengers — including trusted pilot Ara Zobayan — were pronounced deceased on arrival. Having been granted special permission to fly on a foggy morning, Zobayan allegedly lost control of the aircraft while attempting to climb to a higher altitude, where the helicopter plummeted into a nearby hillside at a speed of over 2,000 feet-per-minute.
The sudden news of Bryant’s death sent shockwaves across the entire sporting world, stemming mainly from his love for his wife Vanessa and the couple’s four daughters, to his vast involvement in the growth of women’s basketball, as well as his strong, Catholic faith.
Despite much of the attention going towards Kobe and Gigi — by way of thousands of social media tributes — information was also released and widely publicized on the other victims aboard the helicopter January 26. The girls’ basketball coach Christina Mauser, players Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, as well as parents John and Keri Altobelli, and Sarah Chester all succumbed to injuries sustained in the wreck.
One of the many touching tributes to Bryant was made by SportsCenter anchor Elle Duncan, who reflected upon a run-in with Kobe while she was pregnant with her daughter in 2018.
“I asked him for advice on raising girls,” Duncan said. “Seeing as though he quite famously had three at the time, and he said just to be grateful that you’ve been given that gift because girls are amazing… His third daughter, Bianka, was about a year-and-a-half old at the time, so I asked if he wanted more children, and he said that his wife, Vanessa, really wanted to try again for a boy, but was sort of jokingly concerned that it would be another girl. And I was like, ‘Four girls, are you joking? What would you think? How would you feel?’ And without hesitation, he said, ‘I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a ‘girl dad.’”
Bryant — a former NBA MVP — went pro after high school and played out his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers — the team that acquired him from Charlotte after being selected in the first round of the 1996 NBA Draft. Donning both the No. 8 and No. 24 with the organization, Bryant rose to stardom rather quickly, earning five NBA championships, two Olympic gold medals, and two Finals MVPs through 20 full seasons of play.
However, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows for the 18-time NBA All-Star. Early on in his NBA career, Bryant was accused of sexual assault on a hotel employee in Colorado. The case went to trial, proving cataclysmic for his image and reputation. Bryant adamantly denied the assault charges, which were eventually dropped as the accuser refused to testify, ending the court case without a conviction. He provided a public apology following the year-long legal proceedings.
Bryant played out the remainder of his career without incident, but that one dark blemish has often marred his success. Despite many of his numerous achievements coming under the bright lights of the Staples Center in Los Angeles, some of the 6-foot-6, 215-pound shooting guard’s greatest accomplishments came outside of the basketball court.
Kobe and Vanessa Bryant had a 19-year marriage, four daughters, and a lifestyle complete with activity surrounding their children. Often spotted at sporting events with one or more of his kids, Bryant would be the first to sit down and talk strategy mid-game with audiences less than a quarter of his age. He was a philanthropic humanitarian, promoting education and providing financial support to less fortunate individuals through many of his foundations and various causes. Bryant was also well-known as an experienced businessman in his many off-court endeavors.
“When I reflect on this tragedy and that half hour that I spent with Kobe Bryant two years ago, I suppose that the only small source of comfort for me is knowing that he died doing what he loved the most: being a dad,’’ Duncan reflected. “Being a ‘girl dad.’”