‘He was a remarkable person’: Fresno woman recalls being by basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s side during 1996 debut

Local News

FRESNO, California (KGPE) – Kobe Bryant’s first points as a Laker came right here in Fresno – more than two decades ago.

There along with him was Fresno woman Darlene Oehlschlaeger. She was there when Bryant became a Laker and literally sat right by his side when his career launched here in Fresno.

“There’s Kobe as a rookie, there he is there,” said Oehlschlaeger.

Oehlschlaeger has scrapbooks and photo albums full of some of the biggest names in basketball. Her all-time favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I’ve met Magic and his wife and his baby,” says Oehlschlaeger.

For 14 years she worked for the summer pro league and recalls meeting Bryant, then just a tall kid, straight out of high school, who’s name was making the rounds.

“He was told to come to the summer pro league and so Del Harris who I know and his wife who was the coach then and he said ‘Darlene can you sit with Kobe and I’, and (I said) ‘shucks, yes I will.’ He said ‘sit by us don’t let anyone ask for autographs. Don’t have anyone take pictures’ and here I was with my camera and two basketballs waiting to get autographs when we were done.”

After that, Oehlschlaeger would continue to meet with Kobe throughout his career.

“I was sitting by him there then when he was well Del Harris was going to go over some plays with him,” she explained.

The moment Kobe stepped foot on the court at Selland Arena back in 1996, Oehlschlaeger was there and says she knew then, he was special.

“He had a lot of Michael Jordan’s moves. Really light on his feet and wasn’t afraid to get through the lines and go under the basket,” she said.

Oehlschlaeger says over the years the Lakers sent her birthday and Christmas cards and she became known to Kobe and the team as the Fresno Cookie Lady.

“They couldn’t eat anything before the game but after the game, I would give it to Chick Hearn (Francis Dayle “Chick” Hearn) who use to call the games,” she said.

Oehlschlaeger cherished her time with Kobe so she was devastated to learn that the kid she met so many years ago, who grew to become an NBA legend, died in a helicopter crash with his daughter Giana, 13, and seven others.

“He was a remarkable person, you know everyone makes mistakes as he did, but you know he comes back and shows the good heart that he has, being around all these kids, and what a good father he is and his daughters, just you can just tell there was so much love in that family,” Oehlschlaeger expressed.

Oehlschlaeger says she’s thankful she was able to meet and spend as much time as she did with Kobe.

Another fan from Fresno, Rudy Serrato remembers being at the 1996 game. The photos below are pictures he took that day.

“It was my first NBA game. Even though it was a preseason game, my dad took us there. It was me, my brother, and my dad. We were excited,” said Serrato.

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