Los Angeles — By Bernard Mendez
This story was originally published in the Daily Bruin, the independent student newspaper for the University of California, Los Angeles.
As a lifelong basketball player, Mert Gulen said he always felt a deep connection to Kobe Bryant.
“He was my childhood hero,” said Gulen, a fourth-year business economics student. “I used to watch him play all the time and try to incorporate some of his moves and things into my life.”
The former Los Angeles Lakers guard died at age 41 in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, California. Bryant’s helicopter took off from Orange County and crashed around 10 a.m., according to the Los Angeles Times.
Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna Bryant also died in the crash, which killed all nine people on board.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that Bryant was an inspiration on and off the court.
“He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes,” Garcetti said in the statement. “This is a moment that leaves us struggling to find words that express the magnitude of shock and sorrow we are all feeling right now, and I am keeping Kobe’s entire family in my prayers at this time of unimaginable grief.”
Gulen said he was devastated after hearing about Bryant’s passing from his friends in a group chat.
When Josh Mimura, a second-year public affairs student, heard about Bryant’s passing on Twitter, he said he didn’t think it was real. Mimura said he grew up as a Lakers fan and remembers watching Bryant in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics.
“I think at first, I was sort of in denial, like this is probably some false report,” Mimura said. “As everyone started to tweet and there were more news organizations coming out, I think I started to really just kind of get upset and sad.”
Christian Parks, a second-year human biology and society student, said he was devastated when he heard about Bryant’s passing.
“He’s a part of my childhood. I grew up watching him with my family every day,” Parks said. “It’s crazy that life is so fragile.”
Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers after being selected 13th overall in the 1996 NBA Draft out of Lower Merion High School in Pennsylvania.
During his time with the Lakers, Bryant was the MVP during the 2007-2008 season and won the NBA championship five times: in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
Outside of basketball, Bryant was known for his philanthropy and for starting Granity Studios, a multimedia company aimed at sports storytelling.
Bryant is survived by his wife Vanessa Bryant and his three other daughters.