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Photo by Abhishek Chandra on Unsplash

Since I was a child I had always been a fan of basketball. In elementary school, I played the game for a couple of years. But I spent the better part of my young life playing on asphalt courts all over the New York/New Jersey metro area. While I may not have been nearly as talented as some of the guys on those courts, I was always able to hold my own.

Kobe Bryant’s death came as a huge shock to the basketball world and based on social media posts, people across the country and the world are also in shock. Many folks seemed to think that saying “good riddance” and “good” was a good idea before we knew the full gravity of the situation. These folks are not just being insincere, but their words are a huge disservice to all of the victims of yesterday’s tragedy.

Mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters are all being affected by this in the worst way possible. None of them know or had anything to do with the negativity they are bringing to such a tragic event. Can a man, particularly a Black man, not reform his life and become a better man? Can he not learn from past mistakes using those low points to make himself a better man?

Of course, he can. And he did.

There are very few justifiable reasons to speak out on his past. Especially right now. Putting all of this out there, now that he’s dead, can and will only affect the lives of children. His as well as the millions of kids who shout “Kobe!” as they attempt to throw trash in a waste bin from a distance — mimicking Bryant shooting a three-pointer.

If you’re the kind of person that likes to destroy the dreams and ambitions of young kids who grew up watching Bryant and are now professional basketball players, you have some self-reflection to do. If you feel like tarnishing the dreams of Black kids who dream of becoming the next Kobe, please take a look in the mirror, then look at your kids (if you have any) and ask yourself if sometimes, for the sake of a child’s dream, you lock the vitriol away and let kids have their dreams.

I don’t know about you, but there is a time and place for everything. This is neither.

As a huge NBA fan, I always despised Bryant. Not because he wasn’t talented but because I’m a New York Knicks/Houston Rockets fan. He was a player on a team deemed an enemy. Therefore, I chose not to acknowledge his greatness until after he retired. I did the same with Jordan. Many fans are like this. Others would only have hate for him when he played their favorite team. Otherwise, they loved him. Yes, sports fans are weirdly unique.

After he retired, looking at his numbers, you couldn’t make the argument that he wasn’t one of the greatest to ever play the game. The debates about who was better, Jordan, Bryant, or LeBron always seemed childish but entertaining to me. Watching folks argue back and forth is quite funny because all three represent different eras in basketball.

They are comparisons that reminded me of folks asking whether Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan was the better player when we all knew it was Hakeem Olajuwon.

I digress.

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

What about the other lives that were destroyed? Kobe’s family is no doubt struggling with what to do moving forward. What of the other families? I see lots of tributes to Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, with very little mention of the other eight people who perished. Yes, Kobe was a legend who impacted many lives, but his body was just as vulnerable as the rest of ours. And in that sense, it simply makes him human — just like anyone of us.

The Altobelli Family

Of the others who perished, John Altobelli (Father), Keri Altobelli (Mother), and Alyssa Altobelli (Daughter), all died in the helicopter crash yesterday. Alyssa played in the same basketball club as Gianna Bryant and was coached by Kobe himself. The family regularly traveled with the Bryants to practices and games by helicopter. Something John routinely did.

John Altobelli also played baseball at the University of Houston. He was known as Coach Alto and was the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College Pirate Athletics. Coach Alto was named coach of the year in 2019, had four state championships, and racked up over 700 wins during a career that spanned 27 years. Coach Alto also helped hundreds of players earn scholarships to Division 1 programs over the past three decades.

The Altobelli family leaves behind two brothers. Two sons.

The Mauser Family

Until 2018, Christina Mauser worked at Harbor Day School where she and her husband coached the eighth-grade girls’ basketball team to their first championship. Mauser put her heart and soul into teaching physical education at the school where she worked for 11 years. During that time she reformed the physical education program adding Yoga and Pilates to the curriculum.

Her career was still flourishing. Mauser was the top assistant coach of the Mamba girls’ basketball team. She also led clinics for WNBA players at the academy. Bryant brought her to the Mamba program to teach kids how to play defense because Bryant didn’t understand ‘zone defense’ having never played it in high school or college. She was known as the Mother of Defense.

Christina Mauser leaves behind a husband and three children.

The Chester Family

Sarah Chester (Mother) and Payton Chester (Daughter) both perished alongside Kobe Bryant. Sarah Chester is being remembered as loving and supportive of Payton and her twin brothers. She was your typical American mother who did a lot of driving for kids who played sports.

Sarah’s son, Riley, paid tribute to them on Instagram saying, “Rest In Peace to the most amazing Mother and sister. I love you Pay Pay and Mom RIP.”

Sarah and Payton leave behind two sons; two brothers.

Ara Zobayan

Ara Zobayan was Kobe Bryant’s private pilot and Bryant didn’t let anyone else fly him around but Zobayan. He was known as a dedicated and caring flight instructor who always helped to ensure his students’ success. He was also regarded as a very sweet man who was especially attentive to the needs of Bryant’s family.

Zoabayan was also a highly rated pilot who was instrument rated. This means he was rated to fly in fog, clouds, and inclement weather by using just the instruments in the helicopter (if needed).

I’m not one to be affected by celebrity deaths. I don’t do funerals well either. But when it comes to celebrities, it’s hard to feel anything for people you never knew. Some may have impacted my life in one way or another, but death is personal. Because of that, I don’t feel the attachment to celebrities or sports icons that others do.

I always find myself sympathizing with the families because we all know what losing someone is like. To say it sucks doesn’t do it justice. It’s much more than that. When someone close to us dies we lose a little part of ourselves with them. And that lasts a lifetime. Celebrity deaths don’t carry that weight. They don’t hurt us like losing a family member does.

Because of that, I wanted to focus on all of the others that perished in yesterday’s tragedy. Sure, it’s okay to mourn the death of Kobe and Gianna Bryant. It’s fucking heartbreaking. But please let’s not forget everyone else and their families. As I tried to find as much info as possible about everyone on board, it became more and more difficult the further I went down the list.

As of this writing, information on Ara Zobayan, Sarah Chester, and Payton Chester is scarce.

And that’s the shame in all of this.

Tragedies like this, with all the media coverage and people talking about it, should serve as reminders that we must all hold our families closer, let them know how much we love them every day, and enjoy every waking moment with them.

Since my stroke, I’ve lived my life as if tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Because it’s not. Prior to the stroke, I worked my ass off from sun up to sun down every single day. It wasn’t leaving me much room for family time. To me, having a stroke was a blessing in disguise. Without it, I may have just missed out on all of the growth my three young men have gone through. And for that I’m thankful.

But yesterday’s tragedy brought all those emotions of living life to the fullest back again. Kobe was doing just that. Living his best life and being an involved father with his children. He wasn’t just present, he was deeply involved. You could see just how much of an impact that had on his kids throughout their lives.

I tell my kids, nieces, and nephews, along with my parents, brothers, sisters, and wife that I love them every day. I don’t just say the words, I make sure I show it with action. Whether they know it or not, because of my medical condition, I may not wake up one day and that scares the shit out of me.

Not for me, but for them.

My advice to all of you is to live your life to the fullest one day at a time and take care of family first.

Written by

Anti-racist activist, essayist, and upcoming author; advocating for equality, justice, and accountability. Support my work at patreon.com/ExtremeArturo

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