'He Was Like the Walt Disney of Basketball:' Fans Gather Outside Mamba Sports Academy to Mourn Kobe Bryant

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Fans gathered outside Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks on Sunday evening to mourn NBA legend Kobe Bryant, who died earlier in the day along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash.

Bryant and his daughter Gianna were on their way to her basketball game at Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, where he was supposed to coach her team, the team director told CNN. The crash occurred in Calabasas, just 20 miles from Bryant’s basketball training complex.

“It was pretty amazing the way this place gave back to the community,” a member of the facility told KTLA. “It’s one thing to know there is a celebrity out there but to see one that actually goes out and really gives back to the community in person… it was an amazing thing.”

The facility, which was launched by Bryant and the academy’s CEO Chad Faulkner in 2018, was designed to be a holistic athletic training center, according to its website. It hosts a variety of programs in basketball, beach volleyball, Brazilian jiujitsu, football, and track, among others.

“It’s a really tight-knit community,” another member said outside the facility. “Here and there you’ll see Kobe walking around and you kind of get a little starstruck.”

Jordan, a young fan who was at the memorial outside the academy, said Kobe was his role model.

“I always wanted to be like him. I just got to train hard like he did,” Jordan said.

Jordan’s mother Julia said Kobe has had a big impact on her son’s life.

“[Kobe] showed the kids not only are you to be a good player and work your hardest on the court, but academically we want to see that you can be scholar athletes,” she said. “He was like the Walt Disney of basketball. He saw a vision and went after it.”

Bryant coached Gianna’s team and often shared photos and videos of her games on Instagram.

In a 2018 appearance on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Bryant said he saw Gianna, who wanted to play in the WNBA, as the heir to his legacy.

“The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans would come up to me and she’ll be standing next to me,” Bryant said, “and they’ll be like, ‘You’ve gotta have a boy, you and V gotta have a boy. You gotta have somebody to carry on your tradition, the legacy.”

“She’s like, ‘Oy, I got this,” Bryant said.

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