LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles is a city of stars, but few actually belong to the city.
Actors, singers and reality stars populate the area but few are quintessential L.A. Instead, they usually belong to the nation and world at large.
Kobe Bryant was not just a worldwide star, he was Los Angeles’ star. He held sway over this city and was a part of its soul. It left a gaping hole there when he, his daughter Gianna and seven others died last Sunday in a helicopter crash in nearby Calabasas.
“He was Los Angeles,” said Timberwolves forward Allen Crabbe, a Los Angeles native. “I watched him ever since I was a little kid. He’s inspired not just my generation and it’s crazy to see the type of impact one person can have on the whole entire world.”
That was evident walking around L.A. Live, the area surrounding Staples Center, the arena Bryant helped build. Instead of buzzing with people going to the surrounding bars and restaurants, it has turned into an outdoor funeral parlor.
Flowers and candles are everywhere. The atmosphere was quiet and respectful. People have left messages on the sidewalk and on large white boards, all while images of Bryant and Gianna hang overhead.
“You can feel what Kobe meant to not just the game of basketball but what he meant to a city and to people who might not have been basketball fans,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders said. “He was a great example of sheer will and never taking anything for granted no matter what.”
There were hundreds of people in Bryant jerseys there Saturday afternoon, even though the Clippers and the Wolves were occupying Staples Center for the day. Saunders said he was hopeful he could bring the team outside Staples Center before they left for Sacramento on Sunday.
Crabbe, however, didn’t feel much like going.
“It’s one of those things where you don’t really want to get reminded of it, because it’s so surreal,” Crabbe said. “It doesn’t even feel real. You’ll go on with your day and sometimes you’ll forget about it and see something and you say, ‘Wow he really is gone.’ I try to stay away from the memorial and all that stuff.”
Crabbe grew up with “Kobe jerseys, Kobe shoes, Kobe posters hanging up in my room.”
“I followed him my whole entire career,” he added.
The same goes for Lakers forward LeBron James, who delivered an emotional pregame speech Friday in the team’s first game since Bryant’s death, a loss to Portland. After the game, James spoke about the importance of family, and brought the impact of Bryant’s death from an international scale down to a familial yet universal level. James said in his years of knowing Bryant, he never saw him happier than in his post-retirement, when he got to spend a lot of time with his family.
“We give [basketball] so much where unfortunately your family comes to the wayside at times,” James said. “Because when you want to be great at something and want to be the best at something, you become so driven that you won’t let nothing stand in the way of it. Not even your own family sometimes.
“At the end of the day, when y’all punch y’all clocks and we punch our clocks, make sure you hug … your family. If you have kids, tell your kids you love them. Try to make it to as much as you can. Don’t feel bad if you happen to go to one of your loved ones’ events or something like that and sacrifice your job.”
The reality Friday and Saturday around Staples Center was all the teams there had jobs to do, and trudge on in the wake of Bryant’s death even if it is difficult. Bryant’s death affected everybody in the NBA, its fans and residents of Los Angeles, no matter your relationship with him.
“Whether we directly knew him or not, we all knew him so well,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “The admiration and respect for everything that he represents, that we have for him has been strengthened this week.”
It’s hard to have much more respect and admiration than the city Bryant called home for the past two-plus decades.
“He’s the king of L.A.,” said Wolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who often works out in Los Angeles during the offseason. “No one is ever going to say otherwise. It’s just weird seeing the murals and everything. It’s kind of surreal that a guy we’ve grown up idolizing, such an icon, someone that his fans thought of as untouchable and able to do anything, get through anything, died. Someone who we thought was so immortal becomes very mortal.”