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Here, Kobe Bryant was just another dad you bumped into at the grocery store

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A fan pays his respects as fans mourn the loss of Kobe Bryant at a vigil in Leimert Park on Sunday in Los Angeles.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Gathered around a steadily growing cluster of candles, flowers, balloons and other memorabilia Sunday night, some of Kobe Bryant’s fellow Newport Beach residents shared their memories of the man called Mamba.

They spoke of Kobe the father — whose dedication and love were apparent to any who came across him.

They spoke of Kobe the idol — whose accomplishments were legion.

They spoke of Kobe the standard — whose legendary pursuit of greatness was an example for all.

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But they also spoke of Kobe the man — whose fame never got in the way of him sharing a warm greeting at the local grocery store.

More than anything, though, they spoke of Kobe the connection — a figure so beloved and so ingrained in the community that his death could bring more than 100 people out to Newport Ridge Community Park on a chilly winter’s night for a candlelight vigil.

By the end of the vigil, those in attendance had joined together in both a rendition of “Amazing Grace” and a familiar refrain of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”

Steve Alford, 57, was among those who recalled running into Bryant at a local Starbucks.

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“He wasn’t anybody special in his mind when he was walking in the store, and it was just really, really refreshing,” said Alford, who is not the former UCLA men’s basketball coach with the same name. “And I think he felt very comfortable here in Newport Coast and everybody treated him with respect.”

After hearing the news in the morning, Newport Beach resident Josh Leith said he walked over to a poster hanging in his house — one of Bryant, emblazoned with the word “Invincible.”

“I thought about it for a second and I thought, well, he is invincible because of what he did for us by his drive and his motivation and his inspiration and who he was as a person,” said Leith, 28.

These were people who knew him as Mr. Bryant, the local youth basketball coach, the dad of four who lived up the street, ordered a certain pink drink at the Starbucks and trick-or-treated with their children.

Jill Yank’s 23-year-old son is also named Kobe — a coincidence as he was born before Bryant achieved fame.

Once her Kobe was at Starbucks at the same time as Bryant and they both went to the pickup counter at the same time when they heard their name. This so delighted Kobe Yank-Jacobs that afterward he ran out to the coffee shop early in hopes of recreating the comical moment.

Another time Bryant helped carry Yank’s mother’s groceries to their car, and for 15 minutes they talked about their shared hometown of Philadelphia.

“We all know him as just Kobe, a person,” Yank said.

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The group spent an hour giving remembrances of Bryant. Huddled around bouquets and votive candles arranged into a K and G for Kobe and Gianna, they also did the Kobe chant and sang “Amazing Grace.”

As candles flickered out in the breeze, someone would pop forward to relight them.

“Thank you, Kobe Bryant,” said a teen boy in a white 24 jersey.

He pointed to the sky.

“Thank you for existing.”


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