L.A. unites in grief for adopted son Kobe Bryant

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By BETH HAR­RIS

LOS AN­GE­LES — The chants rose in the plaza across from Sta­ples Cen­ter. “Kobe!” and “MVP! MVP!” They came from hun­dreds of fans gath­ered to mourn the death of Kobe Bryant.

Can­dles burned along­side hand-let­tered mes­sages scrawled on signs and the pave­ment. Bunches of flow­ers piled up, some with pur­ple-and-gold bal­loons at­tached.

Men, women and chil­dren of ev­ery eth­nic­ity milled around, drawn to the heart of down­town Los An­ge­les where they had once cel­e­brated five NBA cham­pi­onships won by Bryant and the Lak­ers.

This time, they were united in shock and sad­ness hours af­ter Bryant, his daugh­ter Gianna and seven oth­ers were killed in a he­li­copter crash north­west of the city on Sun­day.

Like many An­ge­lenos, Bryant was a trans­plant. Born in Philadelph­ia, he spent some of his ear­li­est years in Italy, where he learned the lan­guage while his fa­ther played pro bas­ket­ball. He later re­turned to the Philadelph­ia area and starred at sub­ur­ban Lower Me­rion High, be­com­ing the top prep player in the coun­try.

But he was most closely iden­ti­fied with LA, where the city’s adopted son thrilled fans with his All-Star moves for the Lak­ers over 20 sea­sons.

Bryant came to the NBA straight out of high school, a quiet kid of 17 whose par­ents

had to co-sign his con­tract un­til he was able to sign his own when he turned 18. He was so young the Lak­ers train­ing staff needed per­mis­sion from his mother to treat him with med­i­ca­tion.

At the time, few in Los An­ge­les thought any­one would as­sume Magic John­son’s man­tle, he of the “Show­time” Lak­ers and in­can­des­cent smile.

In fact, Bryant was al­ways more Michael Jor­dan than John­son. Bryant’s killer in­stinct, tire­less work ethic and in­tol­er­ance for giv­ing any­thing less than the best in prac­tice and games most closely hewed to the at­ti­tude of his idol Jor­dan.

Still, Bryant’s au­dac­ity ap­pealed to laid-back An­ge­lenos. At times, it clashed with Shaquille O’Neal, who shared an un­easy spot­light with Bryant while win­ning three NBA cham­pi­onships from 2000 to 2002.

It wasn’t un­til O’Neal was traded away in 2004 that Bryant took over as the Lak­ers’ cor­ner­stone, and John­son en­dorsed him as a wor­thy suc­ces­sor. Bryant be­came his era’s Jor­dan to his fel­low play­ers, while segue­ing into a beloved icon, em­braced across his adopted city.

“He grew up there,” Golden State War­riors gen­eral man­ager Bob My­ers said. “He grew up and ma­tured and changed and evolved. I’m sure they felt like they grew up with him.”

Away from the court, Bryant briefly fell from grace in 2003 af­ter be­ing ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault at a Colorado ho­tel. He lost spon­sors and fans and his rep­u­ta­tion was tar­nished. The case was even­tu­ally dropped, and Bryant and his ac­cuser set­tled her civil suit against him.

There were other per­sonal prob­lems. Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, filed for di­vorce in 2011, but they rec­on­ciled a year later. There were dis­agree­ments with his par­ents, too. They ini­tially op­posed his mar­riage and didn’t at­tend the wed­ding. Bryant’s mother tried to auc­tion mem­o­ra­bilia of his in 2013, and he suc­cess­fully chal­lenged her.

Those stum­bles only served to hu­man­ize Bryant among his fans. If they could have re­la­tion­ship and fam­ily prob­lems, so could he.

Some of Bryant’s most sto­ried mo­ments oc­curred in­side Sta­ples, where he scored 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006, se­cond-most in NBA his­tory. He led the Lak­ers to two more NBA ti­tles, parad­ing the tro­phy past thou­sands of rap­tur­ous fans in the streets.

Bryant was in the news less than 24 hours be­fore his sud­den death. Cur­rent Laker Le­Bron James over­took him as the NBA’s third all-time lead­ing scorer dur­ing a road game in Philadelph­ia.

As­so­ci­ated Press

VIGIL — Peo­ple gather at a memorial near Sta­ples Cen­ter af­ter the death of Laker leg­end Kobe Bryant Sun­day in Los An­ge­les. The city is in a state of mourn­ing for Bryant and his 13-year-old daugh­ter Gianna, who both died in a he­li­copter crash along with seven oth­ers on Sun­day.

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