Losing Kobe Bryant isn’t just about Basketball

Kobe Bryant coaching his Mamba Academy team at Hope University in Fullerton.  Photo taken March 31, 2019 at 9:22 a.m.

Roman Arcos

Kobe Bryant coaching his Mamba Academy team at Hope University in Fullerton. Photo taken March 31, 2019 at 9:22 a.m.

By Roman Arcos, GODINEZ FUNDAMENTAL HIGH SCHOOL

Kobe Bryant looks at the ref and calls a time out. As he calls in his team and grabs his clipboard, click, I take the photo.

I took this photo during my sister’s morning basketball game last March. It was a typical day, just like that Sunday.

Then things were different.

I received a screenshot from a friend with the headline, “Kobe Bryant Killed in Helicopter Crash… Everyone Else On Board Dead Too.” I quickly went on Twitter, checked local news sources ABC, NBC, and KTLA. I refreshed pages every minute, hoping I would see a tweet that confirmed his death rumor was “false.” When KTLA, our local Los Angeles news channel confirmed that the rumor was true, my heart dropped.

Kobe, Gianna Bryant, Payton & Sarah Chester, Alyssa, Keri & John Altobelli, Christina Mauser, and pilot Ara Zobayan were all on board the helicopter that crashed on Sunday, January 26, 2020. Alyssa, Payton, and Gianna were all teammates for Lady Mambas, a girls basketball team coached by Kobe Bryant. Payton was with her mother, Sarah. Alyssa was with her mother and her father who was the baseball coach for Orange Coast College for 27 seasons. Christina Mauser was a full time coach for Mamba Academy. They were all traveling to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, Calif., for a basketball tournament.

The day the news broke, fans all over the world, mourned the loss of an NBA Legend and the other lives that were lost. Thousands of fans gathered around the Staples Center that night as the Grammys took place inside. In the Los Angeles and Orange County areas, the pain was really felt. Bryant meant more than basketball.

Bryant entered the NBA at only 18 years of age, being one of the youngest to enter the league. He played 20 seasons in the NBA, all with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an 18x NBA All Star, 5x NBA Champion, 2x NBA Finals MVP, and NBA MVP. He finished his career in fourth place in the all time scoring list. He also holds the second most points scored in a single game, 81 points, and finished his career scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz. 

This was more than a coach to player connection, it’s a family connection they had built.”

— Alfredo Arcos

Not only was Bryant known for his legendary career as an NBA player, but also for being a great father and role model. Bryant had four daughters: Natalia, Gianna, Bianka and his youngest Capri Bryant. He was an example of what a great father should be. Bryant’s motive for using a helicopter was to spend more time with his daughters and wife instead of being stuck in L.A. traffic.

Bryant ultimately represented us, people who fight everyday of their lives to see a brighter day. His drive, his passion, his hunger to win. He inspired generations to have what is called the “mamba mentality.” The mamba mentality is what Bryant represented. Doing whatever it takes to reach your goals, never giving up, and never backing down from a challenge. He gave the game of basketball his heart, every game he played he left it all on the court. 

The extent of Bryant’s impact on me was far greater than just an athletic aspect. As a basketball fan and former player, it was hard for me to leave the game behind. I lost the passion of playing the game my sophomore year, and decided to stop something that no longer made me happy. However, Kobe made me realize that the passion for basketball will never leave you, and it is up to us to pass it on and share with younger generations.

Kobe founded the Mamba Sports Academy in 2016, roughly around the same time my father and I organized a travel basketball team. This was both my way, and Bryant’s, of passing the game on to others. In March 2019, the Mamba Academy played the Santa Ana Golden Eagles, my sister’s team right up the street from our house in Fullerton, Calif.

My 12-year-old sister Valeria Arcos, who had played against Gianna, was shocked by their deaths. “My first thoughts when the news broke, was it’s fake news,” Arcos said. “ It felt like a bad dream. It saddens me that Gianna never got to keep growing as a basketball player. Kobe inspired many of us young female basketball players to get better everyday and to be a better person.”  

Soon after hearing the news, Arcos laced up her basketball shoes and went to her gym to play her first game of the day. She described the atmosphere of the gym that day as “dead silent.” No one talked, they just tried to focus on the game.

The Santa Ana Golden Eagles head coach and founder is my father,  Alfredo Arcos, who was heartbroken over the loss of life. “I was very saddened. Many young lives were lost and it is an unpleasant thing to hear,” said Alfredo. From a coach’s perspective, “It is very tough on the families of the lives lost, as much as it is on their players. This was more than a coach to player connection, it’s a family connection they had built. The players did not only lose their coaches, but they also lost a mother/father/role model in them.” 

Bryant meant a lot to me. But his mamba mentality meant the most.

I’ll remember the night he dropped 60 points in his final game. It was unexpected, and even in his final game he left it all on the court. He showed that anything is possible, if you work for it.

The day I took his photo he was just really focused on the game his daughter’s team was playing. I was too star struck to talk to him so I snapped the photo quickly as he coached his players. When it came to timeouts, he remained calm and pointed out his players’ mistakes and how to fix them. He complemented them when they did something well. Just Bryant being like any other dad and coach.

The story will be told on how Kobe was more than an athlete. His drive, his passion, his discipline, his dedication, can all be used to teach us a lot. As our community continues to grieve, we can’t help but look back at the great things he did. Let us continue his story, in our own way, hoping to inspire the next generation. 

Mamba out, but not forgotten.

This story was originally published on Grizzly Gazette on February 13, 2020.