They didn’t have tickets to the Kobe Bryant memorial, but that didn’t stop some fans from flying cross-country for a chance to be part of Monday’s farewell.
Bobuy Miles, 53, flew to Los Angeles from Chicago on Saturday just to stand outside Staples Center, where the memorial would be held. He tried to get tickets but was unsuccessful.
Still, he wanted to pay his respects to Bryant, whom he’d been a fan of since Bryant entered the NBA. He said the news of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and eight others last month devastated him because Bryant “had so much life left to live.”
“That was my guy. Great basketball player, great person. Smart. That was my buddy. It’s hard to believe that he went out that way. This is his town, and I just had to be here.”
Jerrod Mustaf, 50, and his 14-year-old son, Jaeden, booked their flight from Maryland to bid goodbye to Bryant before they knew they needed tickets. Mustaf, a first-round NBA draft pick for the New York Knicks in 1990, said he chose Bryant as a role model for his son, the leading scorer on his middle school basketball team, and not just for his athletic supremacy.
“He epitomized great character,” Mustaf said, adding that his son was a “strict Kobe fan.”
He showed a photo on his phone of Jaeden at age 3 in a backpack with the words “Lil Kobe” on the back. The boy has worn No. 24 since he was a baby, his father said.
Mustaf was puzzled why Los Angeles officials chose to block off Staples Center and reject an outdoor viewing area for fans like them cut out of the sold-out celebration.
But the trip was not in vain. They attended the Celtics-Lakers game Sunday, soaked up the atmosphere and picked up some memorial items, including a Mamba and Mambacita T-shirt honoring Bryant and his daughter Gianna.
For fans who did get tickets, Monday was a moment of reflection.
Ray and LaVonna King took the train from San Diego before the sun had risen to celebrate the life of a family hero.
“It is just an awesome honor to be able to be here,” said LaVonna King, clad in a T-shirt recapping Bryant’s career stats.
“But it is a sad day for everyone to come together and say their prayers for the families,” Ray King said. “It is going to be a hard day for everyone involved.”
The Kings picked up their programs, pins and T-shirts with Bryant’s and Gianna’s numbers on the back and then filed into the arena to say their goodbyes.