It has been a handful of days since the shocking news of Kobe Bryant’s death and I have wrestled with how to respond in writing. I don’t like doing articles filled with “I” or “me” but this is a unique circumstance. The crash happend just miles from where I once lived and the destination was the city I used to live in.
As a kid, Michael Jordan was the icon of the NBA my early basketball memories were the Paxson three in the corner and the push off against Utah to secure the title. Then there was this young kid passing the ball between his legs to win the dunk contest for my hometown Los Angeles Lakers. That kid was Kobe Bryant and just a few years later, during my freshman year of high school, Kobe and Shaq won their first NBA title with the Lakers. It was an era that was just about impossible to head to the store without passing multiple cars that featured Lakers flags that were attached to their window. So my teenage years of basketball fandom were dominated by Kobe Bryant and the loss of him was a loss of a piece of my childhood.
Then, we learned his daughter, and two other 13 year old girls, were also on board. As a parent now, this news hit me in a different kind of way. I immediately flashed my thoughts to Vanessa Bryant and the incredible pain she must be feeling having just lost her spouse and child, two things I don’t even want to contemplate having to experience.
Then the other names were released and one stood out to me, John Altobelli. Initially I was unsure why the name stood out but I knew I recognized it. Soon after I was on Twitter and it hit me via multiple people I follow and personally know shared their experienced with Alto, he was the baseball coach at Orange Coast College. In my time working in the baseball world, l became familiar with the man even though I never met him myself. I have met his son JJ while he was a scout for the Boston Red Sox, I have spoken and interviewed numerous ballplayers who played for him during his time as a manage in the Cape Cod League, and there is also the kid I coached who went on to become a coach at the University of Oregon, where JJ Altobelli currently coaches as well.
On Tuesday, on a night the Clippers-Lakers game was postponed in the wake of the tragedy, there was a baseball game down in Orange County. The Orange Coast Pirates took the field to open their baseball season, and they did so in front of a packed house, without their manager. I don’t know the score of the game, frankly it is irrelevant, but they began the healing process. John’s brother, and SID at Orange Coast College, told the kids to “do the best you can, that’s all you can do. Clear your heads, play baseball the way my brother would have wanted you to play.”