Losing the Mamba, LA’s most complex and prolific hero

Graphic by Matthew Reagan

Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers legend and his daughter Gianna Bryant were among nine killed in a helicopter crash near Calabasas Jan. 26.

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Since the age of 5, I’ve played soccer in Southern California. I started out playing AYSO and eventually moved to the club level; soccer was a near constant staple of my Saturdays. My family would wake up, grab their folding chairs and a Brueggers bagel and make the pilgrimage to whatever dewy pitch we were slated to play on that morning.  

This ritual is common for many families throughout SoCal, especially in Orange County. It was even true for global icon and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant.

If you’ve played here long enough, you’ve likely seen him gracing the sidelines. I remember giving him a fist bump as he walked to find a seat on the field I had just played on. It’s both jarring and refreshing to see a superstar lounging in the same Costco chair your little brother sat in. 

Kobe sitting on the sideline of his daughter Gianna’s soccer game. Photo courtesy of Pacqui Pascaul

In the wake of his and Gianna’s deaths, my friends’ Snapchat stories were filled with secret shots that captured Kobe the soccer dad, cheering on his Gianna on the same fields where my parents cheered me on.  

News of Kobe’s death was an immediate shock; news of Gianna’s death left me absolutely shattered as I entered the Prague Metro at the I.P. Pavlova station. I didn’t expect to cry, but I absolutely did. It is strange to feel such strong emotions for people you’ve never met, but I know much of Los Angeles is crying with me. 

If you aren’t a sports fan or haven’t spent much time in Southern California, it may seem strange that a basketball player’s death could elicit such a reaction. And while yes, at the end of the day, Kobe was just a basketball player, he was also an embodiment of Los Angeles itself. 

Kobe’s work ethic was relentless. He was always the first one in the gym and the last one out, putting in grueling hours of training. His tireless effort mirrors the swaths of taqueros, nurses, executives, teachers and other Angelenos who pack our freeways each and every morning to go put in another hard day’s work. 

Kobe was problematic. His 2003 sexual assault case involving a young woman in Colorado never went to trial after the survivor decided against testifying for a judicial system ill-equipped to provide her justice. This part of Kobe’s legacy often goes undiscussed — drowned out by the roar of accolades and petina of his celebrity. Even as a lifelong Laker fan, I only first heard about this a few years ago. As has been brought to light time and time again by the #MeToo movement, this reprehensible behavior is an embodiment of a side of LA as well.  

Kobe’s game, however, was art. He dazzled us with his veracity, his tenacity, his flare and his showmanship. He would beat you and let you know about it (to the tune of five championships). For us, he was our hero. For the rest, he was your villain. Much like the movies Hollywood crafts for the silver screen, his twisting, “no-chance that goes in” fadeaways left crowds astounded and brought audiences to their feet. 

I will never know Kobe or Gianna personally, but I know what they mean to this city. And, at the very least, I can say our families shared a Saturday morning tradition. 

Rest in peace 

Ara Zobayan | Christina Mauser | John Altobelli | Keri Altobelli | Alyssa Altobelli

 Sarah Chester | Payton Chester |Gianna Bryant | Kobe Bryant