Basketball fans, and the entire world, were shocked yesterday after learning that NBA legend Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash. Bryant was on his way to a youth basketball game when the chopper went down over Calabasas, California, killing the star, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. The death of Bryant, affectionately called The Black Mamba, impacts the game of basketball on a number of levels, as well as the sports community overall, and also hits home to Calvin Ayre.
Bryant first entered the NBA in 1996 when he was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets. Almost immediately, he was traded to the LA Lakers, where he spent the entirety of his long and successful 20-season career – five NBA championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, 18 NBA All-Star appearances, 11 All-NBA First Team selections and more. When he retired in 2016, he was the third-highest regular-season scoring player in league history.
However, he was much more than a basketball phenom. Off the court, he founded the Kobe Bryant China Fund, which worked in conjunction with the Chinese government-backed Soong Ching Ling Foundation to bring education and health programs to China. He was also behind the Mamba Sports Academy in California, a center designed to provide a multi-sport training facility to young athletes. He was the official ambassador for After-School All-Stars, a non-profit organization that develops after-school programs for children across the US.
Bryant was also involved with the LA Lakers Youth Foundation (LALYF), which supports non-profit organizations. Calvin Ayre and the Calvin Ayre Foundation sponsored the LALYF twice, and Ayre has contributed directly to the organization, having worked directly with Bryant, Magic Johnson and others to help improve the quality of life of local children.
Bryant had an accomplishment not many athletes can add to their list of achievements – he was the recipient of an Academy Award. He won the award in 2018 for an animated short entitled Deal Basketball, and also showed his writing talent through a children’s book series that would go on to become a New York Times bestseller.
An investigation into the crash is still being conducted by the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board. There are reports that the helicopter was carrying a total of nine people when it went down in foggy conditions, and the cause of the crash has not yet been identified as of this writing. One witness reported hearing a loud boom just before the helicopter fell and burst into flames about 40 minutes after takeoff.
Among the other victims were John Altobelli, a 27-year coaching veteran for Orange Coast College’s basketball team, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa. Additionally, Harbor Day School assistant coach Christina Mauser, Sarah and Payton Chester and the pilot perished in the accident.
Bryant leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and their three other children, Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3 and Capri, 7 months.