Lakers legend and daughter among nine Laguna mourns

Willie Rounaghi, Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor

Two years ago, Kobe Bryant entered Laguna Beach High School’s Dugger Gym. He wasn’t there to play a pickup basketball game or to train. His playing days were in the past. Bryant was here to coach his daughter, Gianna Bryant, and the rest of Team Mamba. After dominating the NBA for 20 incredible seasons, Kobe seamlessly redirected his passion for the game of basketball to his daughter Gianna’s development as a basketball player. In Gianna, many recognized the future of the Bryant legacy and the heiress to the basketball throne.

Sadly, on the morning of Sunday, Jan. 26, Gianna and Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with seven other Orange County residents. Shock overcame people globally; however, in the greater Los Angeles and Orange County areas, this tragedy struck the greatest chord.

As a 17-year-old kid, Kobe Bryant entered the sphere of Southern California basketball nearly 24 years ago. Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Jerry West made a draft-day trade for the untested talent from Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia. 

In Kobe’s rookie season, he airballed four key three-pointers down the stretch against the Utah Jazz in a must-win game during his first playoff series. Following such a nightmare scenario, most young players would be deterred, lose confidence and never redeem themselves. Kobe wasn’t like most young players. Instead, he used this shortcoming to fuel his off-season work and tireless dedication to the sport. 

“It was an early turning point for me in being able to deal with adversity, deal with public scrutiny and self-doubt. At 18 years old, it was gut-check time,” Bryant recalled.

As a result of his toil, Kobe went on to make 36 game-winning shots, become an 18-time All-Star, the Lakers career all-time scorer, 2-time Finals MVP and a regular season MVP. 

In the final game of his NBA career, poetically against the Utah Jazz, he scored an unbelievable 60 points. 

“Kobe’s impact on Southern California and in the sports community was tremendous. His work ethic was unparalleled, and others pushed themselves to the extreme so they could be like him.  I mean, you know you have an impact on people’s lives when every time they shoot a crumpled piece of paper into the garbage can, they say, ‘Kobe’,” said English teacher Jon Hendrickson, a lifelong Lakers fan.

Kobe served as a constant reminder of the payoff of hard work. Kobe’s life was not without flaw, but as it continued, it showed a man who constantly desired to grow and become better in every facet of life. 

Memorials of Kobe’s death have popped up in our local vicinity, along with our neighboring cities such as Newport Beach where Kobe and his family resided. The large L for Laguna Beach that sits on the hill above Skyline was painted gold and purple as a tribute to the Lakers legend.

Lakers fans were drawn to him for his fearlessness, and of course, the five championships he brought to Los Angeles. After conquering the NBA, Kobe didn’t plan on a peaceful retirement. He tackled the story-telling realm to create a medium where his life experiences could be consumed by the general public. Most noteworthy, his animated-short Dear Basketball won an Oscar. 

With his post-basketball success, he showed that he could accomplish anything he set his mind to. But his greatest pride and joy didn’t lie in his business pursuits or his creative outlets, not even in the sport of basketball. Throughout all of the chapters of his life, his focus remained with his four daughters. 

During his career, he would fly in helicopters to and from Lakers practices to avoid lost time in LA traffic; it was significant to him that he drove his daughters home from school whenever he could. 

On a foggy morning, Kobe’s personal helicopter crashed into a hill on the way to an AAU girls basketball tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy. Among those lost was pilot Ara Zobayan, along with 8 Newport Beach residents: Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant (father and daughter); John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli and Alyssa Altobelli (husband, wife and daughter); Sarah Chester and Payton Chester (mother and daughter); and Christina Mauser (wife and mother of those left behind).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

From parents guiding their kids through the loss of friends to Laguna Beach staff members  supporting loved ones through immeasurable heartbreak, many within our district as well the larger Orange County community have been directly connected to those lost in the tragedy. The incident has grieved all types of people, but it has also shown the power of a caring and united extended family. One does not need to look at the mounds of bouquets left outside of Staples Center to understand the abounding support throughout all of our local communities we pay tribute to Sarah, Payton, John, Keri, Alyssa, Ara, Gianna and Kobe by continuing to love those families and friends most grieved by their losses.