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An NBA Wife’s Tribute to Kobe Bryant: What Tragedy Taught Us

On Sunday, January 26th, we lost a basketball legend. Kobe Bryant brought the best out of you as a player. In fact, my husband, Michael, played the best game of his life against Kobe. Off the court, while Michael and Kobe played on Team USA during the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing, he and Kobe had […]

On Sunday, January 26th, we lost a basketball legend.

Kobe Bryant brought the best out of you as a player. In fact, my husband, Michael, played the best game of his life against Kobe. Off the court, while Michael and Kobe played on Team USA during the 2008 Olympiad in Beijing, he and Kobe had a lot of intimate times together—long bus rides filled with thought provoking conversations and talks on the phone at night.

Needless to say, it’s been a sad week for our family and the many families directly involved. We will forever remember Kobe Bryant, his legacy, and his daughter. What he meant to the world is unmatched. What he meant to my husband and their connection was amazing—they understood and respected each other immensely. But let’s also remember that there are other families torn to shreds right now. I grieve for Vanessa and her three remaining daughters, Kobe’s parents and siblings. But I also grieve for the families of the victims whose stories are not yet being told. Kobe was a legend, but he was also a human who cared deeply for others. He’d want those other victims’ stories to be told and them to be remembered, too. 

Family members and local news reports have identified the others killed in the crash as Bryant’s daughter, Gianna, Gianna’s basketball teammate Alyssa Altobelli, Alyssa’s mother Keri and her father, John. A basketball assistant coach, Christina Mauser, was also killed in the crash, as was Payton Chester, another basketball teammate, and Payton’s mother, Sarah.

I’d like for us to take a moment to acknowledge the other victims of the crash.

John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli

John Altobelli (56), his wife, Keri, and his youngest daughter, Alyssa, were known as the “first family” of Orange Coast College. According to OCC athletics director Jason Kehler, John Altobelli was about to start his 28th season as the coach of the school’s baseball team. He was known as an incredible coach, tremendous mentor and a great friend. His daughter, Alyssa (13), was a basketball teammate of Gianna Bryant.

Sarah and Payton Chester

Along with Alyssa Altobelli, Payton Chester (13) also played on the Mamba basketball team with Gianna Bryant. Payton will be remembered as engaged, encouraging and gentle, while her mother, Sarah Chester (45), was described as “the one that everybody counted on,” according to her brother, George.

Christina Mauser

Christina Mauser (38) was the assistant coach at Bryant’s Mamba Academy basketball team. Christina’s husband, Matt Mauser, told NBC’S TODAY that Bryant personally chose Christina as a coach because she had “an amazing mind for basketball.” Known as the Mother of Defense (aka, MOD), Mauser’s wife will be remembered as warm, funny, and incredibly deep.

Ara Zobayan

Ara Zobayan was the pilot of the helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and six other passengers on Sunday. According to Darren Kemp, one of Zobayan’s flight students, Kobe Bryant “doesn’t let anyone else fly him around but Ara.” A licensed commercial pilot since 2007, Zobayan will be remembered as an incredibly dedicated flight teacher.

Before the helicopter crash, recordings of Zobayan’s contacts with air traffic controllers tell us that he was given Special Visual Flight Rules clearance, which he was licensed to do. However, what this means is that the pilot was able to take off in the midst of dangerously heavy fog, despite LAPD helicopters and most other air traffic being advised to stay grounded.

As a former NBA wife, I know firsthand the flights that these players take night in and night out that are putting them in a lot of danger just to get at the game to perform for the fans. Is this admirable? Absolutely. In fact, this is the mentality that makes them so great at what they do…

But at what cost?

After a day had passed since the horrific event, I had decided to take a break from all of the news surrounding the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant and the eight other victims, mainly because the more you engage, the more engulfed you become. Either way you slice it, it’s a tragedy. But here’s how I have been able to come to terms with it and process it…

We lost nine lives this past Sunday—one of them happened to be a friend of my husband, Michael. And while we mourn for those who were victims of this terrible event, this tragedy has also been an opportunity for me to reflect.

What really matters?

What’s the point of the rat race?

Nothing, and I mean nothing, will possibly improve this tragedy. Nothing will take away the heartache and pain from the families who will have to live with this for the rest of their lives. But every single day, we are all given space to make decisions about how to spend our time. When does determination to be somewhere or do something matter so much that it’s worth the risk of losing a life? For me, that’s the most tragic.

Am I saying you shouldn’t take that flight to your next vacation destination, work conference or speaking opportunity? Absolutely not. I am a firm believer in taking big risks and saying yes to challenges in life. But I encourage you today, and every day, to weigh the risks and count the cost of every decision big and small. Is it really worth it? This should be the question. Life is delicate. Tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us. We have to live every day like it will be our last. We have to get past petty BS and do what makes our hearts happy.

As I end, I personally want to extend my sincerest condolences, my love and my prayers to all of the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, January 26th. Please know that while there’s nothing I can do to take away your grief, I’m thinking of you every single day.

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