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‘How about an autograph for the kids?’ 11 Kobe Bryant memories from L.A. Times readers

Fans in Southern California and around the world — from South Pasadena and Hawthorne to Guam and Bosnia and Herzegovina — are mourning the loss of Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas Sunday morning, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others on board. His career with the Lakers spanned 20 years before his retirement in 2016, and included five NBA championship titles, two Finals MVPs and one-regular season MVP.

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The Times asked readers to write in with their favorite memories of Bryant, whether it was a moment spent watching him in a game or a chance encounter during the course of their daily lives.

Here’s a selection of what was shared with us, lightly edited for clarity:

I took my son Jack, who loved Kobe from day one because of his Philly connection, from our home in Seattle to Staples to see Kobe. Lakers versus Cleveland. Lakers win, crowd chants “MVP” to their hero, and I had a great night with my son. Jack passed away in 2016 at the age of 20. I haven’t felt this bad since.

—Matt Beattie, Sammamish, Wash.

Like many others, Kobe was a part of my upbringing in Los Angeles. In the early 2000s my parents were going through a turbulent separation ... My uncle was my father figure during that time, and some of my most clear memories from then were watching Lakers games with him and my cousin.

My first jersey was #8 Lakers jersey. The first time I wore it, I wore it backwards — with Bryant’s name in the front. I didn’t know the rules of basketball, I didn’t know the “Bryant” and “8" were the back of the jersey, and I barely spoke English during that time. All I knew was that Kobe was the best basketball player and we all loved him.

My family was going through a lot of turmoil during those years, but the memories of watching Kobe with my uncle and cousin still bring so much happiness to me.

—Andrea Montufar, Pomona, Calif.

In 1996 I took my wife and 8-year-old son to meet Kobe at the ESPN store at the Glendale Galleria. He had yet to play a game in the NBA. He signed a jersey for my son. Thank you Kobe, for 5 titles. I wish the Dodgers had that kind of intestinal fortitude. Mamba forever.

—Louis Scott, South Pasadena, Calif.

It was a cold winter Saturday in Manhattan, 2002. Kobe was making an appearance at a McDonald’s on Third Avenue. Just as he was leaving the McDonald’s, I walked by with a group of 7-year-olds. Lots of people wanted autographs.

I yelled to Kobe, “How about an autograph for the kids?” Kobe straightlined it to the kids. What a man, what a legend.

—Barry M. Frohlinger, New York

I was at the 2012 Olympics and all the Olympians in the village would ask the NBA players to take a photo, and quite a few of them were overwhelmed and declined to take photos. I remember Kobe would stop and talk and take pictures with everyone. He gladly took a photo with me and chatted with me for about 15 minutes and he was so down to earth and genuine.

Whenever anyone asks me who the coolest athlete is that I got to meet, to this day, almost 10 years later, I still say Kobe.

—Nick Delpopolo, Westfield, N.J.

I met Kobe in 2012 in Santa Barbara at the Kobe Bryant Basketball Academy. I just remember him being so nice and friendly to us, and his willingness to teach the game to new, young basketball players and enthusiasts. I’ll never forget that.

—Andre Salehian, San Diego

When I worked at the In-N-Out next to LAX, I was rushing down the line of cars in the drive-thru taking orders. The next car rolled down their window, and my smile went from cordial to ecstatic. As a lifelong Lakers fan who also tore their Achilles (tendon) playing basketball, I was over the moon that Mamba was in the drive-thru and I got to take his order. He had a big smile and was kind.

I’ve lived in Boston for the past 10 years, but I always make it very clear proudly walking around in my purple and gold that the Lakers are #1 and Kobe was the king.

—Rebecca Arellano, Boston (formerly Hawthorne, Calif.)

My brother is 10 years older than me. He and I aren’t particularly close, but if there is ever one thing that has never failed to bring us together it’s the Lakers. Watching the video of Kobe breaking down the game to his daughter Gianna was a heartwarming full-circle moment for me: it took me right back to the years I spent watching Lakers games with my brother, he breaking down the game for me, us watching Kobe’s game winners together.

—Alejandra Alarcon, Hawthorne, Calif.

Kobe’s last game in Portland. (Trail) Blazers shooting a free throw, Kobe is back court. A hush falls across the arena right before the shot is taken .... and I scream “WE LOVE YOU KOBE!” He grabs his jersey and points up towards where I was sitting. My daughter, a Blazers fan, loses her cool yelling “He heard you, Mom!”

—Kaila Backman Portland, Ore.

Kobe Bryant was the ultimate competitor. His toughness, both mental and physical, was inspiring in every way. Watching Kobe tear his Achilles, then limp to the line and sink two free throws because his team needed them will never leave my mind. The ability to still trust yourself as the best bet to do what has to be done to win in that situation totally encapsulates what Kobe was about.

Kobe may not have always led a perfect life, but he transcended basketball and sports. He was a genius, a fierce competitor and a beloved father and husband. There will simply never be another Kobe.

—Jake Washburn, Memphis, Tenn.

My daughter and I are lifelong Lakers fans. We moved for a time to Washington state and I was able to purchase two seats close to the Lakers Bench when the Sonics still played there. My daughter (age 6) was dressed from the top down in Kobe attire and wore a Lakers wig. We were in the tunnel when he came out before the game was going to begin (very determined, and very focused) and he walked by her and she just said, “Kobe.” He stopped quickly in his tracks, came over to her, looked at her from head to foot, nodded his head in appreciation and then he high-fived her.

We will never forget that moment.

—Jennifer Uteda, Sunland, Calif.

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