By Raiza Giorgi
The first Los Angeles Lakers game Andrew Warwick witnessed was one of the most historic. Most basketball fans, and just about all of Kobe Bryant’s fans, know of the game that took place on Jan. 22, 2006, when Bryant scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors. That game is considered one of the greatest performances in the NBA history, alongside Wilt Chamberlain’s league-record 100-point game back in 1962.
“I fell in love with Kobe, as I think so many people did. They saw his work ethic and mentality to strive for greatness, which inspired so many people,” Warwick said.
Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died Jan. 26 in a helicopter crash, which was reported just before 10 a.m. in the area of Las Virgenes Road and Willow Glen Street in Calabasas, less than a mile south of Highway 101.
Warwick is now the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School’s junior varsity boys basketball coach, having just graduated in 2015. He came back after one year and coached the frosh/sophomore team and has coached JV the past three years.
“I am a full-time student at UCSB finishing my Master’s in history with a teaching credential. I work full time at the Chumash Casino as a valet and I coach,” Warwick said. “I want to help inspire kids as I was inspired by Kobe and my coaches.”
While growing up, Warwick said joining the basketball team at the high school helped shape who he was a person. It wasn’t just the coaching on the court, but life lessons off the court that enabled him to make good choices.
“I begged and pleaded with my mom to send me to Kobe’s basketball camp at UCSB for a summer and it was the best time of my life. I got to meet him twice and one of the greatest moments of my life was standing next to him for the group picture. Since I was the shortest kid, I got to be right next to him,” Warwick said, laughing.
For eight years, Bryant held his Kobe Academy basketball camp during the summer at UCSB where young players from around the world came to learn.
Warwick has taken Bryant’s advice and the Mamba mentality and applied it to how he coaches his players. He expects them to be great as he is leading by example and telling them that they must give 100 percent to whatever they do in life. Even if they don’t continue basketball, whatever road or path they take should have 100 percent effort and drive.
Warwick recalled the morning of Jan. 26, when he was informed of the tragic news involving Bryant.
“I woke up late Sunday morning to a bunch of text messages, voicemails and links to the TMZ site,” he said. “I didn’t want to believe it. I watched when they confirmed it was Kobe and the eight other passengers and I lost it.”
Warwick couldn’t get his emotions together, but he knew he needed to do something to ensure Bryant would be remembered.
“If only for one day, one game, people took a moment to idolize him,” he said. “Sure he was a great player, but he was equally an amazing person. Kobe along with all those on board the helicopter, were taken too soon.”
This whole week he asked his players to wear their Laker and/or Bryant jerseys to show solidarity. At their home game on Wednesday evening they paid special tribute to Bryant during half-time.
The loss of lives from the crash has been felt around the world, and there is another Santa Ynez Valley connection that has locals feeling grief. The daughter-in-law and granddaughter of Santa Ynez Valley natives Randy and Cathy Chester were listed as two of the nine people killed in the helicopter that morning.
Sarah Chester and her daughter, Payton, were listed in news reports and confirmed by the Chester family.
Randy and Cathy Chester both graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School and kept in contact with many valley residents who reached out to the Star to notice the connection in the tragedy and said they were devastated for the Chester family.
“Payton and Sarah were the lights of our family. Payton had a smile and a personality that would light any room, and a passion for the game of basketball. She found joy on any court and loved all her teammates and coaches,” Cathy Chester wrote on her social media page.
The victims had been en route to the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where Bryant coached his daughter, Gianna, and other teammates, including Payton. In an Instagram post by Bryant’s wife Vanessa, she expressed her pain and love for her husband and daughter.
“There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon,” Vanessa wrote. “I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way.”
Vanessa went on to say that she wants to help support the families of those lost along with her own. Those that wish to donate are encouraged to visit www.mambasportsfoundation.org or www.mambaonthree.org.
The Star expresses condolences to the Chester, Bryant, Altobelli and Zobayan families and loved ones and all those affected by the crash.