Extra Points Column: Life stories that won’t be finished
Like the rest of the sports world, I was saddened to learn of Kobe Bryant's tragic death on Sunday.
The precise ranking is debatable, but there's no doubt he's among the top 10-12 players in NBA history. And judging by the outpouring of affection from everyone from Shaquille O'Neal to President Barack Obama in the aftermath of the helicopter crash that took his life, he was one of the most impactful players of his generation.
Fans from coast to coast, from Lower Merion High School outside Philadelphia to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, mourned his passing with memorials. The Philadelphia Eagles published touching tribute on Twitter for Bryant, who was an avid Birds fan. Kobe addressed the team during a trip to L.A. in the 2017 season.
His wife, Vanessa, published a video showing him dancing and cheering at home while celebrating the Eagles' victory in Super Bowl LII that season. The 76ers held a moving, touching ceremony in his honor during their most recent home game. He also had a connection to my hometown of Cape May. While Kobe never visited the resort, his father, Joe "Jellybean" Bryant and Lower Cape May Regional High School legend Charlie Wise were teammates at LaSalle University and became very good friends. Jellybean was a frequent houseguest of the Wise's at their former home on St. John St. and the two were reportedly in each other's weddings.
I shed no tears, however, until I learned that Kobe's 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and two other teenage girls, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester, were also in the helicopter, along with Alyssa's parents, John and Keri Altobelli, Payton's mother Sarah Chester, basketball coach Christina Mauser and pilot Ara Zobayan. Kobe's wife, Vanessa, and daughters Natalia, Bianka and Capri, lost a husband, father, daughter and sister.
Chris Chester has to bury his wife and daughter.
Riley and Hayden Chester lost their mother and sister.
The crash left Alexis Altobelli (16) without her parents and younger sister.
Christina Mauser was a wife and mother of daughter Penny (11), son Tom (9) and daugher Ivy (3) "My kids and I are devastated," husband Matt Mauser wrote on Facebook.
"We lost our beautiful wife and mom."
As a father of two and grandfather of two, the tragedy hit me especially hard. My wonderful, caring wife, Karen and I spent 35-plus years raising two awesome children in Ashley (36) and Kyle (34).
I coached Ashley's Little League and Senior League softball teams and helped out with Kyle's baseball team as well. We watched dance recitals and Queen Maysea Pageants, Lower Cape May Regional High School basketball and baseball games. I cried when they graduated from high school, and cried again when I dropped them off at Jacksonville University and Arizona State, respectively.
Now our days are spent enjoying Kyle's sons Hampton (3) and Graham (1). Hampton's smile was as bright as the sun when he learned to ride his bike for the first time. Graham melts my heart every time he yells, "Poppy" and runs to me.
Those families impacted by the crash will never get to experience those kinds of moments and build those memories.
That's what shook me to my core.
"Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act," President Obama wrote on Twitter.
"To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents." Same here. It is truly a shame that Kobe will not get to finish that second chapter.
The real tragedy, however, the one that shook me to my core, is that Gianna Bryant, Alyssa Altobelli and Payton Chester won't get to finish the first chapter of their life stories.