Hundreds of fans gathered Sunday outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to pay tribute to NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash that stunned the sports world and beyond.
“This dude is everything to me man. It makes no sense,” said Bobby Jimenez, sobbing as he stood outside the venue where Bryant wowed fans for two decades.
The retired Lakers player, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others perished early Sunday in the crash on a hillside in Calabasas, northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Jimenez said Bryant had been a role model for him growing up, and he had flown all around the country to see the icon play.
“Every parade, I was here. His last game, I was here,” he said. “That’s my guy.”
Many fans wore Lakers jerseys and carried signs with images of the Los Angeles Lakers legend and messages that said, “RIP, love you Kobe #24.”
Others chanted “Let’s go Kobe” and placed bouquets of flowers at a makeshift memorial.
A giant electronic billboard at the LA Live Plaza near the Staples Center also had a picture of the basketball great with a message that read: “In Loving Memory Of Kobe Bryant 1978-2020.
One fan placed a wreath outside the Center, which was cordoned off by police because of the Grammys ceremony taking place there Sunday evening.
He said he heard about the news while driving in Hollywood and headed to a flower shop to purchase a bouquet to honor his idol.
“We grew up watching him play,” said Sam Krautonog, 19, another fan wearing a Lakers jersey. “My grandpa is 82 and he cried when he heard the news.”
Luca Gardio, also 19, said his family was devastated upon hearing the news.
“Kobe goes beyond basketball,” Gardio said, adding that he had been lucky enough to attend Bryant’s last game.
– ‘He made you believe’ –
Gennesys Cabral said Bryant’s death was even more painful than losing a loved one.
“I’ve lost family members, and I know it sounds messed up but it didn’t hurt this bad,” he told AFP. “Losing Kobe is really, really close to losing a family member because he was a LA legend.
“He made you believe things that were impossible, that would be possible, that could be done.”
Some 200 people also gathered on Sunday at the foot of the hill closest to the crash site, many of them wearing Bryant jerseys.
Others turned out to pay tribute near the Lakers practice facility on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
Fans and players at the National Football League’s Pro Bowl game in Orlando, Florida, observed a moment of silence to commemorate the Lakers star with the crowd afterwards chanting “Kobe, Kobe.”
In New York, the Madison Square Garden ceiling was awash in purple and gold — the Lakers colors — to honor Bryant ahead of the Knicks and Nets game.
The announcer listed Bryant’s career accomplishments and 24 seconds of silence were observed before the crowd erupted in chants of “Kobe” that could be heard outside the venue.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also paid tribute to the basketball legend, saying in a tweet that he “will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” Garcetti added.
Image: AFP / Frederic J. Brown People gather around a makeshift memorial for former NBA and Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant after learning of his death at LA Live Plaza in front of the Staples Center in Los Angeles