‘We all know him as just Kobe, a person.’ Newport Coast neighbors salute Kobe Bryant

A woman prays Monday at a makeshift memorial for Lakers legend Kobe Bryant outside Pelican Crest, the gated community in Newport Coast where Bryant lived with his family. His daughter Gianna, 13, died with him Sunday in a helicopter crash in Calabasas.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

People who knew Kobe Bryant as the father of four who lived up the street, ordered a certain pink drink at the corner Starbucks and trick-or-treated with their children gathered Sunday night in a park not far from his home to share their memories.

Newport Ridge Community Park is near Bryant’s Newport Coast home and near their homes too. These were neighbors of the retired Lakers basketball legend and youth basketball coach whom some of the younger people knew around their school gym as Mr. Bryant.

Bryant, 41; his 13-year-old daughter Gianna; John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan all were killed in a helicopter crash Sunday morning in Calabasas. All lived in or near Newport Beach.

Jill Yank’s 23-year-old son also is named Kobe — a coincidence since Kobe Yank-Jacobs was born before Bryant achieved widespread stardom. 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.

Lakers legend Kobe Bryant died when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed into a hillside in Calabasas shortly before 10 a.m.

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.

At least 100 people gathered at Newport Ridge for an informal candlelight vigil where they talked about community and strengthening neighborly bonds.

A woman relights a candle in honor of Kobe Bryant at Newport Ridge Community Park in Newport Beach during a vigil Sunday night for the former Lakers star, who died in a helicopter crash earlier in the day.
(Hillary Davis)

Kim Shipman placed a votive candle in a delicate filigree holder on the pavers not far from the park’s basketball court and recalled how friendly and gracious Bryant was.

“Every time that we would run into him at Starbucks he always had the biggest smile on his face. He was always so kind and always so loving to the children more than anything,” she said, her 10-year-old-daughter Angeline at her side. “He was such a great encourager to everybody around, always with a big smile on his face.”

Crystal Alford encouraged everyone to say hello to people they don’t know.

“That’s what he did,” she said. “He said hi to everyone.”

"He was always so kind and always so loving to the children more than anything,” Newport Beach resident Kim Shipman said at a candlelight vigil for late Lakers legend Kobe Bryant on Sunday night at Newport Ridge Community Park.
(Hillary Davis)

Mike Mohtashami sent his son Alireza to a Bryant basketball camp at UC Santa Barbara every year for his birthday.

His son was 6 when he met Bryant 17 years ago in Las Vegas. Mohtashami encouraged him to ask Bryant for a photo. A bodyguard declined the request, but Bryant waved the boy over.

“May God bless him and his daughter and the rest of the people who perished on the helicopter,” Mohtashami said.

Lakers memorabilia and flowers and balloons in the team's purple and gold fill a shrine left by mourners outside Kobe Bryant's neighborhood, Pelican Crest in Newport Coast.
Lakers memorabilia and flowers and balloons in the team’s purple and gold fill a shrine left by mourners outside Kobe Bryant’s neighborhood, Pelican Crest in Newport Coast.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Gianna, an eighth-grader at Harbor Day School in Corona del Mar, was Bryant’s second-eldest child. She had attended Harbor Day since kindergarten.

“She looked out for the underdog and never left anyone out,” school officials said in a statement Monday. “Gianna was a strong leader, had a work ethic that was unmatched and had a level of maturity beyond her 13 years.

“Gianna has left an indelible mark on the school and the people that she’s touched. This loss is indescribable, as is the loss of her father, who was a respected and active member of the school community. Our students took great pride in seeing Mr. Bryant on campus regularly.”

Neighbors wept for the children who lost parents in the crash and parents who lost children, and took care to remember all the victims, as they also were neighbors.

Complete coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash.

The group spent an hour huddled around bouquets and candles arranged into a “K” and “G” for Bryant and Gianna. They sang “Amazing Grace” and chanted Bryant’s name as if at Staples Center, where Bryant played for the Lakers.

“Thank you, Kobe Bryant,” said a teenage boy in a white jersey with Bryant’s No. 24. He pointed to the sky. “Thank you for existing.”

Candles flickered out in the breeze or as their wicks dropped into melted wax.

As they did, someone quickly would come forward to relight them.

Also on Sunday, the Rev. Anthony Vu offered prayers for Bryant during evening Mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newport Beach, where Bryant was a regular parishioner.

“It’s a reminder to all of us that life can be very unpredictable and fragile,” Vu said. He urged those assembled in the pews to live each day as a gift from God.

St. John the Divine Episcopal Church at 183 E. Bay St. in Costa Mesa plans to open its doors from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for anyone who wants to pray for the victims of the crash.

Daily Pilot staff writer Faith E. Pinho contributed to this report.

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2:44 p.m. Jan. 28, 2020: This article was originally published at 11:32 a.m. Jan. 27 and has been updated with additional information.