NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Kobe Bryant’s daughter Gianna always wore a smile and looked out for the underdog, a leader in her own right at the tender age of 13. Christina Mauser poured her heart and soul into coaching and teaching physical education at the school where the young Bryant and her basketball star father were an integral part of the community.
Flower bouquets were laid at the entrance to the Harbor Day School in Newport Beach, a campus that was grieving Monday, a day after a helicopter carrying the basketball superstar, his daughter, Mauser and six others to a youth basketball tournament crashed. All aboard perished.
“This loss is indescribable,” the school said in a statement, describing Gianna as someone who never left anyone out, was mature beyond her years and had an unmatched work ethic.
“Gianna has left an indelible mark on the school and the people that she’s touched,” the statement said, adding that Kobe Bryant “was a respected and active member of the school community. Our students took great pride in seeing Mr. Bryant on campus regularly.”
HarborDay is a private school in the idyllic seaside community where Bryant lived. Mauser, of nearby Huntington Beach, helped guide the school’s eighth-grade basketball team to its first championship when she taught and coached at the school from 2007 to 2018, the school said.
She and her husband Matt taught and coached basketball at the school, which is how they met Bryant, Matt Mauser told NBC’s “Today” show.
The mother of three had a keen mind for defense, he said, and Bryant brought her on to help coach that skill at his Mamba Academy training facility where Gianna’s club team played.
“They called her the mother of defense — MOD,” he said.
“She was just an amazing person: beautiful, smart, funny,” Mauser said. “He didn’t pick her because she was a slouch. He picked her because she was amazing.”
At the school, some students arrived Monday wearing purple and gold, the colors of Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Maria Paun, 81, stopped by to lay flowers at the campus where she said she remembered waiting to pick up her granddaughter more than a decade ago while Bryant waited for his eldest daughter.
“He said, I like your accent, Grandma,” she recalled through tears. “He was somebody. And I am a nobody. But he bent down to give me a hug.”
Also among the victims of Sunday’s crash were Payton Chester, a 13-year-old member of the basketball team, and her mother Sarah, Payton’s grandmother Catherine George told KNBC-4 in Los Angeles.
Orange Coast College’s longtime baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa were also on board, said Tony Altobelli, the coach’s brother. Alyssa also played on Gianna’s team, which was coached by Bryant; Mauser was assistant coach.
Altobelli coached at the college for 28 years, won a state championship last season and was named “National Coach of the Year” last year for his division, his brother said.
On Sunday, coaches, friends and former players gathered at the baseball field on the Costa Mesa campus where Altobelli had been known to mow the grass until turf was installed. They swapped memories of Altobelli laying down carpet in the locker room, chiding the umpire during games, dressing as a pirate for Halloween and providing endless support to his students.
“He treated his team like they were sons of his,” said Jason Kehler, the school’s athletic director.
Nate Johnson, associate head coach, looked around the field and said none of it would have been possible without the man known as “Alto.” Flowers were laid at home plate.
“This whole thing — I joke, it’s the house that Alto built, because he built it all,” he said.