Kobe Bryant soared across the basketball court in the Lower Merion High School gym, embraced his teammates, and smiled broadly in photographs with friends.
For a few minutes on Saturday afternoon, the Lower Merion gym that bears Bryant’s name was near-silent as students, teachers, and alumni watched a video tribute made for Bryant featuring highlights from his years as a player with the Lower Merion Aces, as well as his 20-year career with the Lakers. Some in the packed gym were crying, and a few bowed their heads for a moment.
“It’s been a difficult time for our school community,” Lower Merion principal Sean Hughes said. “Because of Kobe, Lower Merion is known all over the world.”
Saturday’s ceremony, held between the school’s scheduled varsity girls’ and boys’ basketball games, also honored Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the seven other victims of the fatal helicopter crash in California a week ago.
Bryant’s classmates, teachers, and others in Lower Merion are mourning a larger-than-life star who always seemed as if he were still one of them, regularly stopping by the school to visit teachers and roam the halls. Since his death, Hughes said, supporters have sent gifts, and students have made videos for the families of the crash victims.
Coach Gregg Downer and assistant coach Doug Young, a former Bryant teammate, unveiled a framed jersey on the wall with Bryant’s name and the number 33, which he wore when he played for the Aces. A Bryant cousin, John Cox, and members of his family attended the ceremony and embraced the coaches. Philadelphia artist Perry Milou displayed an oil painting of Bryant, alongside a drawing by Easton Area Middle School teacher Valerie Davis. Students and players wore shirts emblazoned with the words The heartbeat of Aces nation.
Moments before tip-off for the second game, coaches invited former team members onto the court to read the names of the crash victims, and observe 33 seconds of silence. “Aces up!” the coaches called, and a cheering section of students lifted their arms above their heads, their hands forming diamondlike shapes.
David Rosenberg, who played alongside Bryant in 1996 when the Aces took the state title, said that even after Bryant moved on, the Lower Merion basketball community felt as though he remained a part of any victories they achieved.
“It’s a community that’s been built off his back,” Rosenberg said. “He turned this into a championship team, and so there have always been these wonderful moments in celebrating these wins. It’s going to be different going forward.”