BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Tributes continue to pour in for NBA great Kobe Bryant who died in a helicopter crash in California over the weekend.
Bryant was one of nine people killed in the crash; his daughter Gianna also died.
From Los Angeles to Baltimore, sports fans and players are still in shock and disbelief. Bryant’s competitive fire was unmatched and made an impression on Baltimore city basketball legend and NBA champion Keith Booth more than 20 years ago.
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“We were in LA to play the Clippers. We didn’t even play the Lakers that day,” Booth recalled. “We were in town to play the Clippers. It was my first year in the league, Kobe’s 2nd year in the league. Kobe paid a ticket to sit front row to the bench so he could get a close-up glimpse of Michael Jordan. After the game, he had a chance to talk to Michael after the game. I remember as a team we waited on the bus about 30 minutes after the game. The first thing Michael said when he got on the bus, he said, “I love that kid. That kid’s going to be special one day.'”
From contemporaries to young athletes, Kobe was an inspiration.
“He gave me hope that I could do anything,” said Jeremiah Stevenson. “The way he strived and pushed, it made me want to do the same thing. The way he carried himself as a leader on the team, I wanted to do the same.”
In a statement to WJZ, University of Maryland great and former NBA player Juan Dixon said sharing the court with Bryand was “an honor and a privilege.”
“This is by far one of the saddest moments of my life,” he wrote. “We lost a great one.”
Bryant was also the first professional athlete to win an Academy Award. His good friend and Columbia native Kevin Frazier of Entertainment Tonight reflected on their friendship.
“I saw him just two weeks ago,” Frazier said. “He invited me out to the Mamba Center to see Gigi and the team play because I was joking with him about making the girls practice five days a week, and he said if they really want to get there, they have to keep their eye on the prize.”
Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.