San Diegans mourn Kobe: ‘It felt to me like a family member had passed away’

Job Brunat sat in the True North Tavern on Sunday in North Park and talked about how he has followed Kobe Bryant since 1996. Brunat says he respected Bryant for everything he did on and off the court as a player and family man.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Some people cried, while others remembered the basketball legend for his tenacity on the court and kindness off it

Disbelief turned to sadness Sunday as San Diegans mourned the death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant.

Initially, many thought news that Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter had died in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles was a hoax.

“I thought it was a joke,” said Lisa Tomanelli, a bartender at End Zone Sports Bar and Grill in North Park.

But within minutes, the sport bar’s television screens were filled with tributes to Bryant and former teammates eulogizing one of the best players to ever play in the National Basketball Association.

Two grown men in the corner of the bar began to cry when they heard the news, said Sheri Powers, who went to the bar to watch SDSU play UNLV.

“They were devastated,” she said. “One guy said he was going to drive up to the Staples Center and pay his respects.”

Powers, who is not a basketball fan, described Bryant’s passing as similar to the death of Michael Jackson in that even people who do not follow the sport are having an emotional reaction.

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant smiles to the crowd during a ceremony before Bryant's last NBA basketball game, against the Utah Jazz, Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
(The Associated Press)

Bryant, 41, was killed when the helicopter he was traveling in crashed and burst into flames Sunday morning in the hills above Calabasas. Gianna, his 13-year-old daughter, was also on board, NBA authorities confirmed to the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said nine people, including the pilot, were on the helicopter. The sheriff would not confirm who had died until all of the next of kin had been notified.

Across the country Sunday, public figures, former players and fans mourned the basketball star.

Fans gathered near a memorial for Kobe Bryant at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

In San Diego, Lakers fans struggled with news of Bryant’s untimely death.

“It felt to me like a family member had passed away,” said Job Brunat. “I’ve watched his whole career, even before he got to the NBA. I watched him in high school.”

Brunat said he particularly respected Bryant’s determination on the basketball court. It’s something Brunat tried to emulate in his own life.

“I always wanted that tenacity that Kobe Bryant had,” he said. “Even though I’m not a basketball player, I wanted to apply that to my life.”

Sabrina Sanderlin wore her No. 24 Bryant jersey to True North Tavern in North Park. Her friend Terrance Pierre thought it would be a good idea for Sanderlin to go outside because she was so sad about the news.

She found out Bryant had died Sunday morning by looking at her phone as soon as she got out of the shower.

“I basically sat in the bathroom in a towel not wanting to believe what was going on,” she said. “It’s terrible.”

Sanderlin sat for more than an hour before moving.

At the sports bar, Sanderlin flipped through old photos on her phone and found one of her 25-year-old son with Bryant. It was taken when her son was 11 and went to a week-long basketball camp in Los Angeles.

She remembers visiting her son at camp and being struck by how open Bryant was.

“You could just approach him like he’s anybody,” she said. “There was no security around him or anything. He was just there for the kids.”

Long time fan of Kobe Bryant, Sabrina Sanderlin of La Mesa was described as moping around the house when a friend took her to True North Tavern on Sunday January 26, 2020 in North Park to help cheer up a little. Sanderlin had just gone to the game on January 15th with a friend.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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