Mendoza: RIP for Mamba & Mambacita

Al Mendoza

WHAT did Kobe Bryant want for Gigi when she grew up?

To be a basketball player. A great one like him.

Gigi—Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant—was only 13 years old when she and her dad perished in that late-morning helicopter crash in Calabasas, Los Angeles, California on January 25.

They were on their way to the Mamba Academy with seven others when their Sikorsky chopper clipped a hillside in rough weather and burst into a fiery ball of fire.

Flight officials at the John Wayne Airport in Burbank had route records indicating the pilot, a veteran no less, was navigating under a dense fog for better visibility.

Apparently, said flight recorders, the pilot didn’t notice flying too low, resulting in possible miscalculations before the crash that killed all nine aboard.

Initial reports indicate human error, although mechanical failure was not being completely ruled out.

Among those who perished in the tragedy were a couple and their child, a lady basketball coach with Filipino parentage (Christina Mauser) and two girls who were Gigi’s teammates.

Bryant was to accompany his daughter Gigi and Gigi’s teammates to a game at the Mamba Academy, so named to perpetuate the memory of the famous moniker that Kobe used as a Laker for 20 years, winning five NBA titles in a decade.

So enamored Gigi was with basketball that, after showing early signs of flair with the game, Bryant called her Mambacita.

Gigi wasn’t a basketball girl, although among Bryant’s four daughters, Gigi exhibited her dad’s athleticism and fierce ethics on discipline.

In a TV interview in March, AP’s Tim Reynolds quoted Bryant as saying: “It’s pretty cool. She started out playing soccer, which I love. But she came to me about a year-and-a-half ago and said, ‘Can you teach me the game?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ We started working a little bit, and the next thing you know it became a true passion of hers. So, it’s wonderful.”

And then in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

Suddenly, the Mamba we knew is now but a memory.

The Mambacita we hardly knew is but history.

Life’s unfair. Sometimes.