VISALIA, California (KGPE) — Fans across the country are mourning the loss of NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, including here in the Valley.
Many who met the basketball superstar describe it as an experience they will cherish forever.
We were there with some of his fans as the news first broke.
“One of the all-time greats, terrible,” says Don Chambers, a Visalia resident. It’s a loss felt around the world and here in the Central Valley.
The sudden death of retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball player – Kobe Bryant.
“I thought it was fake at first because it was TMZ and I couldn’t believe it,” says Joel Mathy, Visalia resident.
Within hours, the LA County Sheriff’s Office confirming the tragedy.”Devastated, I heard the news and it broke my heart,” says Chris Islas.
Bryant was just a rookie with the Lakers, when they played in Fresno at Selland Arena back in 1996.
Islas, like many, die-hard fan of the Black Mamba, recalling the time he met his idol during a school field trip to UCLA, more than 20 years ago.
“It was his rookie year and me and a couple of my classmates we went to UCLA we ran into Kobe, he was actually going to practice and we went and asked him like hey can we take a picture with you and he was a very humble guy and of course he went with us and we took a picture with him and stuff and actually we got to see him practice a little bit afterward,” Islas explained.
From that moment, Islas was a loyal Bryant fan, watching him develop, switching jersey numbers from 8 to 24, becoming a true legend in the sport.
“I had his posters in my room, I played high school basketball, idolized him and for this to happen, it’s very heartbreaking,” says Islas.
Whether a Lakers fan or not, many in awe of Bryant’s talent on and off the court.
He was fluent in three languages, an Oscar winner and a beloved father.
Young players in Fresno, looking up to him.
“I think for the Fresno community it’s a Laker town, it’s been historically and I know that Paul George is with the Clippers but all of those guys admire Kobe, you look at the guys today they look to him for his greatness,” says Marc Q. Jones, 940 ESPN, and former NBA scout.