By: Henry Curi
Photography taken by Henry Curi
January 26, 2020 — Just like any other day, people woke up that Sunday and went about their weekly routine. Whether that was catching up on homework, running errands or even just relaxing from a long week of school or work.
However, this Sunday felt off from the start. An overcast loomed over Southern California that made it feel different. Maybe not for everyone, as people were too busy being caught up with their own lives. This sort of routine is what makes people forget what it truly means to appreciate something before it is gone forever. Before it vanishes from reality itself.
Suddenly, multiple news stories surfaced of a helicopter crash near Los Angeles that involved the deaths of nine individuals.
Among the nine in the helicopter were members of the Altobelli family — former UCI and Orange Coast College baseball coach John, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa — assistant coach for an Orange County girls basketball team Christina Mauser, former principal of Harbor View Elementary School Sarah Chester, her daughter Payton and pilot Ara Zobayan.
The last two passengers were former NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
When the news broke out, many found them were hard to believe. The incident was so intangible, that the moment of notice did not feel real. That moment felt like the world had stopped spinning for one second; one that would forever change the course of not just sports, but mankind in general.
Many people may wonder, what type of person has the almost-divine ability to have such an effect on a planet whose billions of inhabitants have not personally met them. Well, that person is none other than a man named Kobe from Philly who grew up with a drive of unstoppable proportions. A drive to live a life that effortlessly gave meaning to others.
Kobe will forever be an example of just how powerful one can be. Not just referring to what he did on the basketball court with his undeniable talent, but how that talent was combined with the mind of a person who was obsessed with the idea of endlessly working for one’s desires.
He was not only a true gift of genius for the game of basketball, but, more importantly, a true gift for the world and its people, regardless of whether they watch sports or not. Kobe’s message extended beyond the horizons of basketball.
January 28, 2020. Los Angeles, CA. — At 1:30am, Downtown L.A. seemed to be filled with a mixed atmosphere of painful sorrow partnered with a thick layer of joy from the crowd, as they soaked in the event that occurred just a few days earlier. People’s eyes shone with reminiscence as they stared deeply into the lit candles near Staples Center in complete silence. They left signed shirts, photos and hand-written notes, as well as full and half-emptied bottles of liquor that seemed to reflect the gesture of pouring one out for a lost one. Lakers gear on pedestrians’ backs gave the birds flying that night a view of yellow and purple dots roaming around this iconic spot.
A man wearing a purple bandana around his head was selling customized shirts in memory of the late L.A. hero. But he was not like any other salesman. He was not pressuring people into buying gear to profit off the tragedy. Rather, if people did not have cash on them, he would offer his shirts for free.
“I’m not doing this for me. I’m doing this for you guys,” said the L.A. native that went by the nickname “FrreShh.”
It is not unusual to see some street vendors taking full advantage of tragic situations to make that profit. But FrreShh, on the other hand, shared moments with the people passing by and offered a hand of comfort to those grieving heavily. After talking about how significant Kobe was to the culture of his city, he placed his hand over the people he engaged with and said, “At the end of the day, we’re all we’ve got.”
FrreShh — a man who seemed delighted to provide a purpose in such a dark time — kept preaching the notion of how he has 10 lives.
“I ain’t even supposed to be here. I’ve been shot at, I’ve been stabbed, I’ve died and came back to life. I ain’t supposed to be here man,” he said as he showed the physical scars he’s acquired throughout the years.
As he reflected on his personal experiences growing up in L.A., FrreShh continued to emphasize how he is able to live freely and happily, even though he has not received the best fortune during his 30 plus years of existence.
He talked about how he roller skates and competes in national tournaments. He commented about how roller skating makes him feel alive. He said Kobe inspired him to fully embrace the things he enjoys most in life.
FrreShh pulled out his phone and started showing pictures of himself in his competitions, making collages that showed how his poses resembled that of the Laker great. It is unorthodox how a person competing in an entirely different field found source of motivation in someone who is nowhere near the realm of roller skating, but according to him, Kobe was the perfect figure to follow overall.
“He had this fire in him whenever he was out there [on the court] that really gave me that same fire I have whenever I compete. It was just something about it that was so … inspiring, if you were able to make yourself feel like that, you just feel on top of the world,” he said.
He grinned widely as he talked about the beauty of life and what it means to do everything you want to do before you are gone. He also brought up how, in this world, money cannot save you from the inevitable, a reflection that is relevant to everyone on this planet. This is the product of the ripple effect that is Kobe’s legacy beyond basketball.
Just like the Black Mamba was able to express himself on the court — whether by screaming at the top of his lungs while ripping his jersey to the side, waving a fist of victory or by sharing a hug with his teammates — many people try to find different ways of expressing themselves and expressing the value of their spirit for people to witness. Rapper Big Tobz, 29, said that he expresses himself through his music.
During that night, as it was well past after-hours, the streets were empty, but the purple and gold lights lit up the vacant roads displaying their tribute. A speaker blasted an uplifting hip-hop instrumental. Big Tobz and his cameraman Frost filmed a music video in front of a Nike sponsored billboard that read “Mamba Forever.”
Frustrated with Big Tobz’s execution, they kept taking multiple takes until they got it right. Until they got it absolutely perfect.
The rapper spoke about the song he was working on and the meaning behind the lyrics he wrote.
“It’s a freestyle about life. Obviously Kobe just passed, so we want to pay homage. I mentioned him in the lyrics, saying that we miss him, you know. It’s just about life,” he said.
For the up-and-coming lyricist, the culture of the city attracted him to pay a meaningful visit to fulfill his goals in life.
“This is my first time in L.A. You meet people if you’re in the right place or for a good enough time, things can happen. I know L.A. is the place where things can happen,” Big Tobz said.
Aside from looking to excel in an industry that is not promised to anyone, he connected his music with his efforts of becoming a good influence to the people that come across him and his art.
“That’s what I want to do. Like Kobe did off the court, he was an inspiration and a figure himself. That’s what I’ve been trying to do as well. I’ve been through a lot in my life and I inspire a lot of people from London, where I’m from. I try to lead by example with my actions. How I’m living, what I’m doing. Me working hard, me coming out to L.A. to work on my dreams and my goals and try to be an inspiration at the end of the day,” he said.
Big Tobz tried to distance himself from the hardships that he would endure to accomplish his dreams. Instead, he focused on the bigger picture of why he is fortunate enough to be able to do what makes him truly happy.
“You gotta understand that, unfortunately, life isn’t promised. Tomorrow is not promised. So while you’re here, you’ve got to really go for it and give your life a meaning. Chase your goals. You’ve just got to be the best you can and leave a legacy as well. Kobe’s left a legacy. He’s gone, but the memories that he’s left, obviously he’s made his mistakes, but nobody’s perfect. He left an unforgettable legacy,” Big Tobz said. “My thing is that while I’m alive, I wanna do what I can to reach my goals so that when I do go and do die, people are going to have good memories about me and be happy with what I left behind.”
Again, this is a prime example of how someone with a basketball career can touch someone who is pursuing something entirely different. Big Tobz had a dream that comes with the common element of making his work have exponential value that absolutely no one can take away from him, making it genuinely priceless.
As much as the loss of a loved one can strike tragedy to those affected, this monumental case — along with the lost souls of the others who were on that helicopter that day — has somehow also made the world a better place.
People feel connected to others whom they had no prior bond with because, besides mourning together, they are appreciating being able to give meaning to their sole existence before their time runs out. One thing is for sure in this universe we live in, life is more inevitable than death.
People are granted the gift to breathe and feel, both physically and emotionally, what life has to offer, but not everybody is brave enough to create ideas that can lead to big changes in the world. What is the value of being granted such a mystical gift if that person is not willing to fully captivate the reason why they were born? Kobe was a man whose passing made the world stand still, and that is because he did all of that and more before his turn in this lifetime was up. He worked hard so that everyone else could keep moving forward. That is the beauty of living in this capsule, the world will never know how to stop until someone makes it.