No matter if they are old or young, loved him or hated him, NBA fans around the world mourned the sudden and tragic death of legendary Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant on Sunday.
For Kennard-Dale High School boys’ basketball coach Jake Roupe, the news of Bryant’s death hit him in a way he never expected.
Roupe, 29, grew up a fan of the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers and routinely found his teams on the losing end of memorable performances by Bryant. Roupe admitted he hated Bryant at times.
“Right when I picked up a basketball was when he got in the league,” Roupe said. “He was the guy. Whether you liked him or didn’t, he was the guy.”
As he grew older and started coaching basketball, Roupe became an admirer of Bryant’s work ethic and passion for the sport. It's a passion that was evident early on, even when Bryant was a high school star at Lower Merion in suburban Philadelphia, leading his team to a Pennsylvania state title in 1996. The Lakers then drafted him straight out of high school.
Bryant was known to work harder than every teammate, and that’s something Roupe preaches to his own Rams team.
“He took practice just as serious as he took any game,” Roupe said. “There wasn’t anyone else like that. He put everything he had into the game and look what he achieved.”
Fans of all ages: Although his players were all born years after Bryant was drafted and missed a lot of his prime NBA years, Roupe said his players shared in his shock and sadness at the passing of a player they looked up to.
K-D senior Zach Waltrup was the first player to text Roupe that Bryant had died and remembered watching Bryant battle the Boston Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen in the 2010 NBA Finals.
He added that Bryant’s famous “Mamba mentality” — the drive and focus he had that allowed him to come up big in clutch moments of games — was one of the factors that attracted him to Bryant.
“Even if you’re young, you still know who he is,” Waltrup said. “He’s definitely a player to model your game after.”
Losing an idol: Eastern York senior Trevor Seitz said he became a Lakers fan because of Bryant when he was young and even did projects on him in school.
“I still have a poster of him hanging (in his room) now,” said Seitz, who recently went over the 1,000-point milestone for his career. “It's crazy to think the guy that made me love the game I play today is now gone.”
Seitz and Roupe both shared that one of their memories of Bryant was how anyone of a certain age has either heard someone else, or themselves, yell out Bryant’s name when shooting, whether it was a basketball or a piece of trash into a receptacle.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who grew up in the '90s that hasn’t taken a shot and yelled ‘Kobe’ when they shoot it,” Roupe said.
To honor Bryant in their own way, Roupe and the Rams will wear Bryant’s Nike team shoes from last season during their game against West York on Tuesday, being billed as "Kobe Night."
In addition, K-D will wear their gold jerseys, West York will wear white (the Lakers’ colors) and the Rams’ coaches will wear purple and gold in honor of Bryant.
“Seeing how (with) something as simple as a shoe, he’s going to continue impacting everyone and his game can bring everyone together,” Waltrup said.
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.