“Tough to hear the news of coach Altobelli,” McNeil tweeted Sunday. “One of my favorite coaches I have ever played for and one of the main reasons I got a chance to play professional baseball. Both the baseball and basketball world lost a great one today.”
Bryant and Altobelli became close when their daughters began playing basketball together, with Altobelli attending as many Mambas practices as possible. Bryant, in turn, gave Altobelli’s baseball team a pep talk two years ago as the Pirates prepared for the state final four.
The scene as people mourn and remember Kobe Bryant
Keri Altobelli was a constant presence at her husband’s baseball games, telling an Orange Coast College sports blog in 2009 that she attended “every home game” and “most away games.”
John and Keri Altobelli are survived by a son, J.J., and a daughter, Lexi, according to Orange Coast College.
The Altobellis’ teen-aged daughter, Alyssa, was a basketball teammate of Gianna Bryant’s. In November, Kobe Bryant praised her for her defense in an Instagram video.
Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, who went by Gigi, was a budding basketball talent, and she and her father were on their way to a basketball tournament in which he was coaching and she playing when the helicopter they were flying in crashed Sunday. Kobe Bryant credited Gigi for rekindling his love of basketball after his retirement.
“Before Gigi got into basketball, I hardly watched it, but now that she’s into basketball, we watch every night,” Bryant told former NBA players Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the Showtime basketball podcast “All the Smoke.”
Kobe Bryant, 41, was one of the NBA’s biggest stars from the time he entered the league as an 18-year-old in 1996. Over his 20-year career, he was named an NBA all-star 18 times and helped the Los Angeles Lakers to five championships, earning NBA Finals MVP honors twice and league MVP honors once (2007-08). Bryant averaged 24.99 points per game over his career, ranking 12th all time, and his 33,643 career points rank fourth. After retiring in 2016, Bryant focused on his business interests, and in 2018 he became the first professional athlete to win an Academy Award for “Dear Basketball,” an animated short film he wrote and narrated.
Payton Chester, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at St. Margaret’s Episcopal School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., played for the Mambas girls’ basketball team alongside Gianna Bryant and Alyssa Altobelli.
Chester previously attended Harbor View Elementary in Corona del Mar, Calif. Todd Schmidt, the former principal at Harbor View, recalled the Chester family’s “huge impact” on the school in a Facebook post early Monday, calling them “genuine, kind-hearted, and caring.”
Catherine George, Chester’s grandmother, spoke with NBC News about her granddaughter’s interest in basketball and about playing for Bryant.
“He was a great coach,” she said. “Her mother and father were very helpful … and they practiced a lot, and for 13 she was very good.”
Andy George, Chester’s uncle, called her the “sweetest soul” and “the kindest, most gentlest person you would ever meet.”
“She always had a huge smile on her face,” he told the Orange County Register. “Every time we would see her she would spend all her time with my little daughters.
“She enjoyed every minute of being there for them, and in basketball, she worked so hard at it. She was good. She had a big [future] ahead for her. It’s just so devastating.”
Sarah Chester, 45, was accompanying her daughter to the youth basketball game.
“She was a great mom and did a lot of driving for the kids who all played sports,” Catherine George told NBC News of her daughter. “They were just great people. They had a fortunate life and got to travel and spend time together a lot. Sarah was the heart of that family. She died doing what she loves.”
A brother, Andy George, told the Orange County Register that his sister was “the one that everybody counted on.” She is survived by her husband, Chris, and two sons, Hayden and Riley, both 16, according to the Register.
“I’m going to miss her so much. I already do,” Andy George told the Register. “She’s strong, kind, intelligent, funny, beautiful and was everything to us.”
Christina Mauser, 38, was one of Bryant’s assistant coaches for the Mambas girls’ basketball team.
“She was extraordinary,” her husband, Matt, said in an interview Monday morning on the “Today” show. “She was incredibly witty, funny, funny like nobody you’ve ever met. … She was warm. She was incredibly bright. She was technologically incredibly savvy. She could figure out anything.”
Mauser, a mother of three children, previously had worked at Harbor Day School and coached the eighth grade girls’ basketball team to its first championship, the Los Angeles Times reported. Bryant leaned on Mauser because of her expertise developing zone defenses.
“He saw what an amazing mind she had for basketball,” Matt Mauser told the “Today” show. “They called her the ‘Mother of Defense,’ MOD. It was a family. They all really cared about each other.”
Ara Zobayan, the pilot of the helicopter, taught other aspiring pilots how to fly “and was very much loved in the aviation community,” Christina Pascucci of KTLA-TV — herself a licensed pilot — tweeted Sunday night.
A flight student of Zobayan’s, Darren Kemp told the Los Angeles Times that Zobayan was considered Bryant’s “private pilot.”
“He doesn’t let anyone else fly him around but Ara,” Kemp said.
Zobayan was an “amazing person and an amazing pilot,” Margaret Bray, a restaurant owner on Santa Catalina Island who had flown many times with him, told the Orange County Register.
Zobayan worked for Group 3 Aviation, which said in a statement that he came to the company in 1998 to learn how to fly helicopters after being captivated during a sightseeing flight at the Grand Canyon.
“Ara worked hard in other businesses to save enough money to pay for training. Flying was his life’s passion,” owners Peter and Claudia Lowry said in the statement. The owners said they were heartbroken over Zobayan’s death.