When the reports came in along with the rest of the world, I sat saddened. Being a wife and mother, it hit too close to home. Every news channel, sports channel, and every social media outlet was about Kobe & Gianna. It was heartbreaking, but I began to wonder about the “other passengers on board” and set out to know them as best as I could. And, as I did, it hit me that we’re missing the ultimate reverse-pivot, crossover fadeaway; there was undoubtedly a tenth passenger on board.
I know what you’re thinking, how have we not heard of this tenth passenger? Is this some crazy conspiracy theory? No! Allow me to explain.
First, though I need to breakdown a few words and the meaning in terms of basketball. The first is, Reverse: to change course, go back to where you came from. The second is, Pivot: a movement in which the player holding the ball may move in any direction with one foot, while keeping the other (the pivot foot) in contact with the floor. The third is, Crossover: player dribbling switches the ball rapidly from one hand to another to make a change in direction. And, lastly, Fadeaway: a jump shot while jumping backwards away from the basket.
So, how do we tie these nine lives to being a reverse-pivot, crossover fadeaway? If you’ve ever heard Kobe speak, he not only mentions but credits, God. He said, “God is great” during his trials and tribulations and specifically spoke of how God carried both he and his cross to bear for him. Prior to boarding the helicopter Kobe and Gianna received communion at church. Receiving communion, is knowing that, those who receive it, the body and blood of christ, will have eternal life with our Lord in heaven. Reverse, returning home. Pivot, remaining grounded. Crossover, entering heaven. And a fadeaway – taking a step back as we talk about this loss from another perspective. Are you following now?
Hillsong United has a song titled, Another in the Fire. This song can be tied to many scriptures but Daniel 3:17 is where I am focusing today. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to commit idolatry. King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed a fourth person in the fire, and while even the guards outside of the fire perished from the scorching heat, the four were never harmed. The fourth person was God. As we were singing this in church yesterday, clear as day – it hit me. The nine people aboard that helicopter were not alone. They were protected before the crash, and during the crash that led them home. There was a tenth person on board, and that was God.
God loved all nine on board. And, I’d love to share with you what I learned of them. What family members were left grieving their loss? What their legacies we were and how we can honor them as people instead of others.
A legend is “an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field” and to many there were more than one legend on board. There was more than one parent/child basketball duo – there were three. There was more than one father on board, there were two, technically three because the pilot, Ara, counted his girlfriends children as his own. There was also more than one mother on board, there were three. This helicopter carried family, it carried legends and it carried strong believers of faith.
John and Keri Altobelli left behind a daughter, Alexis, who is a junior is highschool and a son J.J. who is a scout for the Red Sox. The Altobelli’s were considered the “first family” of OCC (Orange Coast College) where John, 51, known as Coach Alto, coached for twenty-seven years. He loved the game of baseball – but Alyssa, his daughter, only 13, loved the game of basketball! And, she was phenomenal. Keri, 46 was a wife and mother who practically raised her children at the baseball field. Within minutes, JJ and Alexis went from a family of five, to a family of two. Suffering a loss more than any junior in high school should ever face, and much earlier than any man should lose a father and stepmother, as JJ has. The Altobelli’s were legends to their family and their community.
Christina Mauser, 38, of Huntington Beach, was the woman known as “MOD” mother of defense to the mamba team she helped coach, will be defending her family from heaven now. Her youngest daughter will be 4 on February 4th, a golden birthday without her mommy. I read today that heat refines and purifies gold. Our faith, like gold, when tested, when held to the fire, can either be refined & purified or perish. A lesson this family is surely living now. Her husband, Matt, has to set aside his own grief in losing his best friend and wife, a woman he humbly admits could kick his butt on the court anytime – to comfort their three young children, ages 3,9 and 11. Another definition of a legend is “a story people talk about concerning people who once existed” and these three children have a whole new perspective. Their mommy was a legend off the court, and she was a legend on the court to a group of young mamba ladies who looked up to her.
Sarah Chester, 45, and Payton Chester, 13, were an adorable brunette duo that had smiles that changed the mood in a crowd. Smiles that made my heart smile, smiles Sarah’s 15-year-old boys Riley & Hayden will never see in person again and Chris, the husband and father – will miss every second. Payton’s principal said she made everyone feel like someone. That’s a legend in my book. Riley and Hayden both have #14 with a ❤ on their Instagram bios for their little sister which I found to be a touching tribute.
Ara Zobayan, 50, was the pilot. He left behind a girlfriend, Tessie, of eleven years and her two children, which were like his own. He had a private job but was a “put a smile on your face kind of guy.” He wasn’t a father, but he was every bit of an example of a man I would hope to be at his age. I mean he’s got about 15 years on me, and what he was to my kids, my family, the way he let us into his life, he’s the kind of guy you just wish the world was infected with.’- Jesse Clark
This helicopter carried nine legends, leaving behind their own legacies, loved ones and heartache. It’s impossible to adequately honor each of them enough. Siblings were lost. Spouses were lost. Children were lost. Eternity though was gained for those nine. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are playing one heck of a basketball game in a heavenly stadium where the hoops are lined with gold and the ref is wearing a sweet pair of Nike Mamba Focus shoes with his golden robe.
There is beauty in God lending us our loved ones. No ones days are promised, we are all on loan, living on borrowed time and possibly if we’re lucky, double overtime. Toby Mac said it best in his song, 21 years, about the loss of his son:
“Is it just across the Jordan
Or a city in the stars
Are you singing with the angels
Are you happy where you are
Well until this show is over
And you run into my arms
God has you in heaven
But I have you in my heart” – Toby Mac