NEWBURY PARK (CBSLA) — Three days after Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died on their way to Bryant’s Mamba Sports Academy in Newbury Park, the facility reopened — with athletes welcomed by a growing memorial.
“Feeling just a bit nervous,” Ben Bass, a 14-year-old athlete, said. “Because I feel like everyone will be pretty sad now that he’s gone.”
Bass has been training at the facility for almost two years, and said he saw improvement in the staff, facility and the motivation after Bryant came on board in 2018 — bringing his “Mamba Mentality” with him.
“Kind of just means like you do your best, no matter what,” Bass said. “And don’t give up.”
Bass never got to meet Bryant in person, but 13-year-old Brady Smigiel got to during Saturday’s Mamba Cup tournament.
Brady said between games he got a fist bump from Bryant and was able to snap a quick selfie as the Black Mamba walked by him.
“I was up, and I saw his car pull up right over here, and I was like, ‘Kobe could I get a quick picture with a couple of my friends,'” Brady said. “And he was like, ‘I’ll get you tomorrow. You play here?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and then he just walked out. I got that blurry picture, and then he walked out and got in the car.”
Brady said he was disappointed, but was determined to try again Sunday. But then the news broke that Bryant, his daughter and seven others died on their way to the academy, making Brady’s photos all the more precious to him.
“I’m keeping those forever as long as I can,” he said. “I’m showing them to all my friends and family, so if anything happened to my phone or my family’s phones, I have it somewhere. It’s just so special to me.”