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