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Grammys, Kobe Bryant mourners converge at Staples Center in an only-in-L.A. scene

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People gather at a memorial for Lakers great Kobe Bryant at L.A. Live, across the street from Staples Center in Los Angeles, the home of the Lakers and, on Sunday, of the Grammy Awards.
(Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

A surreal only-in-L.A. moment unfolded Sunday at L.A. Live, where thousands of fans gathered to mourn Kobe Bryant while music’s elite filed into the Grammy Awards at Staples Center.

Security was already tight because of the Grammys, and the Los Angeles Police Department said they don’t it didn’t see any problems occurring as the downtown L.A. shopping center becomes a place to mourn the NBA great. Officials said there is clear separation between the shopping center and the area where the Grammys are being handed out at Staples Center.

It was a study in contrasts. On one side of the complex, fans wearing Lakers jerseys and sweat shirts came to make sense of what happened. On the other side, limos arrived with celebrities dressed in high fashion. The Grammys planned a tribute to Bryant, and he was on the minds of many.

Monty Brianton, 54 wiped tears from his face with his right hand, glancing down at a second memorial site that started in the middle of the courtyard at LA Live. Around the corner, a family of five at the Yard House sports bar sat quietly, the kids glued to their phone watching highlights of Bryant’s days when he played for the Lakers.

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Nearby Joe Rivas, 28 of Norwalk, wearing a Bryant Jersey, stood staring at the TVs in the Yard House, watching clips of Bryant’s playing days. Rivas said he had been at the gym when he found out about Bryant’s death.

“It made me sick, absolutely sick,” said Kyle Robinson, 28, a lifelong Lakers fan.

“I knew there would be a nice crowd down here, and it’d be a place to come talk about it and hang with other fans that are hurting too,” he said.

“Initially, you’re like, ‘It’s not true,’ ” Robinson said. “Now that its real, it sucks. He was a legend in this city. He taught us that, with hard work, you can be the best at anything. All those videos showing him in the gym, late nights, it was empowering, it was inspiring.”

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Ryan Apfel, a USC student from Redondo Beach who played high school basketball, said: “I was at my apartment by myself and I broke down crying. I looked for my Kobe jersey and said, ‘I have to go down there. I’m too restless. I have to pay my respects.’

“Growing up in L.A., it’s such a big, diverse, spread-out city,” Apfel said. “One of the things that I realized growing up here that brought us together was the Lakers and Kobe. I think part of that was because of the way he approached the game. I think a lot of people grew up with Kobe as their mentor from afar. It’s not just about basketball. It’s been about how you approach life in general. A lot of people from L.A. take that to heart. Even after he retired, this is a Kobe town.”

Herman Pech, 26, of Baldwin Park arrived outside Staples Center and joined a huge crowd in which mourners wearing Bryant jerseys mingled with Grammy Awards guests, including a couple in a shocking pink evening dress and a silver cheetah print tuxedo jacket.

Pech said he grew up wanting to be as tall as Bryant but stopped an inch short at 6 feet 5. He used to shoot 100 baskets a day at his house hoping to play like Bryant, who he said distinguished himself with his work ethic. “Nowadays there’s load management and players sitting out” games, he noted, whereas Bryant went out and played with a fractured hand.


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