Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others were en route to the Mamba Sports Academy for the continuation of a basketball tournament when their helicopter crashed in poor conditions, killing everyone on board.
The accident happened on Sunday, January 26, and the day before the team Bryant coached and on which Gianna player — Team Mamba — had two games.
The New York Times took a closer look at those two games on the Saturday before the tragedy. The tournament featured teams from mostly California, but a few other states as well. The players were ages 9 to 14.
Team Mamba was a strong squad. Not only did they have Kobe’s daughter, but also Mackenly Rudolph who is the daughter of former NBA standout Zach Rudolph.
“The Mambas were formidable, not unbeatable,” John Branch of the New York Times wrote. “They lost their first game, 46 to 29, to a team from Texas.”
The Mambas went on to win their second game of the day, 35 to 29. Three players who were aboard the helicopter the next day — Payton Chester, Alyssa Altobelli, and Gianna – combined for 17 points in the win.
A boy who was in attendance at the game told CBS about his interaction with Kobe after the contests were over.
“I was up, and I saw his car pull up right over here, and I was like, ‘Kobe could I get a quick picture with a couple of my friends,'” 13-year-old Brady Smigiel said to CBS. “And he was like, ‘I’ll get you tomorrow. You play here?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and then he just walked out. I got that blurry picture, and then he walked out and got in the car.
“I’m keeping those forever as long as I can,” he said. “I’m showing them to all my friends and family, so if anything happened to my phone or my family’s phones, I have it somewhere. It’s just so special to me.”
The Mamba Academy was very important to Bryant, and he detailed why in his final interview before his death.
“I think you can have a lasting impact,” he said. “I mean winning championships, that’s great. Building families, that’s great. But when you can create stories and create moments and events and companies that can provide opportunities … and inspire kids and create situations where people can be better, I think that has a lasting impact, more so than winning championships does.”