Even before Kobe Bryant died Sunday in a helicopter crash, Squeeky Johnson called Bryant his all-time favorite NBA player.
After the crash, Nate Snook learned more about Bryant and who he was beyond basketball.
And Jordan Ryan, one of the area’s top girls basketball players, hopes Bryant’s influence and impact on the women’s game forges on.
Monday was the first day of second semester for many local high schools, where talk swirled around Bryant a day after he and eight others died in a helicopter crash outside Los Angeles. Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, also died in the crash.
Johnson, a Skyview junior, said Bryant was the topic of conversation in all of his classes Monday and spilled over into the Storm’s basketball practice. There’s a reason why Johnson refers to Bryant as his all-time favorite NBA player.
“You want to be like Kobe,” Johnson said. “Kobe was one of those guys who motivates you to play basketball. When you start getting down or maybe even bored with the game, you could watch a video on Kobe and it would immediately inspire me to play more.”
Snook, of the Columbia River’s boys basketball team, sees Bryant beyond his five NBA titles and one of the all-time greats to ever play the game. Sunday, Snook took in numerous television analysis and written stories on Bryant’s life beyond basketball. That included being a father to four daughters.
“That just speaks to his character a lot that his biggest accomplishment wasn’t his championships,” Snook said Monday during practice. “I think his biggest accomplishment was being a father and a role model.”
At Columbia River, purple and gold were everywhere Monday, from a number of Los Angeles Lakers jerseys worn by students to practice and game-day jerseys worn by its boys and girls basketball teams. River’s colors also happen to be the same colors worn by the Los Angeles Lakers.
Monday, Columbia River’s girls basketball team was one of 12 Southwest Washington teams in action. The Chieftains paid tribute to Bryant with hand-drawn “8” and “24” on players’ calves. For players like Ryan, a four-year varsity player for the Chieftains and a big fan of the NBA, what Bryant did for the women’s basketball game in recent years she called “inspiring.” He became perhaps the biggest champion of women’s sports and a common fixture at women’s basketball games. Earlier this month, he and Gianna flew to Wenatchee to watch Cashmere High superstar Hailey Van Lith drop 35 points in person. Van Lith, rated the nation’s top point guard and a Louisville signee, and her Cashmere teammates posed for photos postgame with Bryant and his daughter. Bryant also founded and coached his daughter’s AAU basketball team.
Moving forward, Ryan hopes the example Bryant led for women’s sports continues.
“I think that having someone like that back women’s sports is really a great thing for women,” she said. “I don’t think there’s enough of that. I hope that more people will step up and fill that spot in the future and continue to support women’s sports.”
More local games Tuesday plan to have Bryant tributes. Student sections at the Union and Battle Ground boys game will wear Laker colors, Battle Ground boys coach Manny Melo said. The students sections at Ridgefield-Washougal boys game will do the same.