Hours after the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, mourners gathered outside the gym that bears his name.
Bryant, who died at age 41 Sunday in a helicopter crash, rose to prominence as a star at Lower Merion High School in suburban Philadelphia. Fans flocked to the school in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, to pay their respects to Bryant, who famously made the leap straight to the NBA from Lower Merion in 1996. Bryant led the Aces to a state championship as a senior.
“Aces Nation has lost its heartbeat,” Gregg Downer, Bryant’s coach from 1992 to 1996, said in a statement.
More people now trickling in, with the first flowers being laid down at the door. pic.twitter.com/Wpnm2KXhmG— Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13) January 26, 2020
a Kobe Bryant remembrance outside Lower Merion pic.twitter.com/79ddd5cBP3— Daniel Gallen (@danieljtgallen) January 26, 2020
A crowd has gathered at the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium at Lower Merion pic.twitter.com/mLRpjJ1KK6— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) January 26, 2020
Flowers and a Kobe 33 Lower Merion jersey outside the Bryant Gymnasium as people pay their respects pic.twitter.com/HtcNNRYICP— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) January 26, 2020
Crowd gathers outside Lower Merion High School’s Bryant Gymnasium as people of all ages leave flowers, Kobe’s High School Jersey, and other memorabilia @FOX29philly #KobeBryant #RipKobe pic.twitter.com/vapIrG5jPK— Lauren Dugan (@LaurenDuganTV) January 26, 2020
The scene at Lower Merion. pic.twitter.com/X04gBLaD3n— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) January 26, 2020
Lower Merion gym named in Kobe Bryant’s honor
Lower Merion released a statement Sunday to express its grief following Bryant’s death.
“The Lower Merion School District community is deeply saddened to learn of the sudden passing of one of our most illustrious alumni, Kobe Bryant.”
“Mr. Bryant's connection to Lower Merion High School, where he played basketball prior to joining the NBA, has raised the profile of the high school and our District throughout the world. Our school community will always be grateful for his ongoing generosity to his alma mater, including his dedication of our Kobe Bryant Gymnasium and his support of our boys' and girls' basketball teams.”
“The entire Lower Merion School District community sends its deepest condolences to Mr. Bryant's family. Our basketball teams will no doubt pay tribute to Mr. Bryant as this season continues, but at this time, as a District, we will concentrate on supporting those in our community – including Coach Downer and English teacher Jeanne Mastriano– whom Mr. Bryant credited for sparking his love of writing.”
The gym at Lower Merion was dubbed the Kobe Bryant Gymnasium in 2010 in Bryant’s honor.
“Lower Merion and everything associated with it made me who I am,” Bryant said in 2016.
Kobe Bryant’s relationship with Philadelphia
Bryant was born in Philadelphia in 1978 but spent a significant portion of his childhood in Italy while his father, Joe Bryant, played professionally in the country. When his father retired, the family returned to the United States and settled in suburban Philadelphia.
Bryant was a four-year starter at Lower Merion, scoring a whopping 2,883 points, before bypassing college ball to go straight to the NBA.
Bryant spent his entire NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers and his relationship with the city of Philadelphia was a complicated one. Before the Lakers beat the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals, Bryant infamously said he wanted to “cut their hearts out.” The NBA All-Star Game was held the next year in Philadelphia, and Bryant was booed by the fans on hand every time he touched the ball.
But the city’s relationship with Bryant improved as the years went on, capped off by a thunderous welcome for his final NBA game in Philadelphia in 2015.