|Kobe in class.|
It seems like each day, from an article here or a news report there, we find out more about this man named Kobe Bryant - who he was and what made him tick. In a local paper today, we find out he lived in Newport Beach and was a regular at many of the local businesses. There they know him not as a basketball star but as a neighbor. They know him at the supermarket where he shops about every two or three weeks; they know him at Starbucks; they know him at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf ("The usual, Kobe?"); they know him at Vanguard University where he led a practice with Gianna's basketball team two or three times a week; they know him at the Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar where he would pick up Gianna after school; and they know him at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church where he attended 7 a.m. mass on the morning he would later board a helicopter for that fateful ride.
"Kobe was a committed Catholic who loved his family and loved his faith," said Bishop Timothy Freyer of the Diocese of Orange. "Kobe would frequently attend Mass and sit in the back of the church so that his presence would not distract people from focusing on Christ's presence." At Vanguard University, a small Christian school in Costa Mesa, he was good friends with the whole basketball staff and frequently sat in on their practices, especially the women's team, often teaching them and giving them pointers. He even attended some of their games. He was especially close to the head basketball coach who credits Kobe with helping him to fight back and overcome a bout with cancer.
They also know him at Orange Coast College where he was good friends with Joe Altobelli, the head baseball coach who also perished in the helicopter crash heard round the world. Altobelli's daughter and Kobe's daughter were teammates on the basketball team Kobe was going to coach that day. Altobelli was much loved by his team and respected in the baseball world. He graduated with a masters from Azusa Pacific University, another Christian school. You do not serve as a teacher or leader in any of these schools without a strong Christian commitment and a call to live out your faith.
So why is this important? It shows how someone of Kobe Bryant's stature in the sports world can also live out his faith as a leader and an example to others. And also, he could be so ordinary, and he obviously enjoyed the company of Christians.
One touching story that says volumes about this man is told by an 81-year-old grandmother who was waiting for her granddaughter to get out of school one day when she realized she was sitting next to Kobe Bryant who was waiting for his daughter. They struck up a conversation and Kobe said he liked her accent. "He was tall, and he was somebody and I'm nobody," she said, "but he bent down and gave me a hug. And I never forget this hug." Her name is Maria, and she was seen in a purple sweater on Monday morning after the accident, laying a bouquet of pink flowers in front of Harbor Day School. "It's hard for me, and it's hard for everyone," Maria said, her voice cracking.