Vipers, Hawks pay tribute to Kobe

Tanner Moore, 20, center, observes a moment of silence as fans paid their respects to NBA star Kobe Bryant before a Rio Grande Valley Vipers NBA G League game against College Park Skyhawks at Bert Ogden Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

EDINBURG — Grief over the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant has been felt all around the world, not leaving out Rio Grande Valley “Black Mamba” fans.

Tanny Moore, 20, drove an hour-and-a-half from his hometown, Sebastian, for a tribute Bert Ogden Arena held during the RGV Vipers’ home game Tuesday against the College Park Skyhawks.

It was Moore’s first time in the arena, where RGV Vipers fans were seen wearing Los Angeles Lakers jerseys, and purple and yellow attire. He said that despite the long commute, attending the tribute was important to him because he considered Bryant as his mentor throughout high school.

Moore added that he was a shy person throughout junior high, and that following Bryant encouraged him to be more brave.

“I am kind of a nervous person,” he said. “So, knowing him and seeing how he just went out and did what he had to do really encouraged me to be more courageous.”

Bryant, 41, died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning in California. Eight other passengers were on board, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna Bryant. There were no survivors.

Before the Vipers’ game began, the arena played a video of Bryant sending a message that encouraged viewers to take risks and “be driven by love.” After the video, everyone in the arena paused for 24 seconds of silence, commemorating the No. 24 Bryant donned on his jersey.

Then, the visiting Hawks played out the 24-second shot clock, followed by the Vipers running out the eight-second violation, as NBA and other teams have done around the world since Sunday.

Moore said Bryant’s 20-year professional career introduced him to something he never thought he would love: basketball.

“I think that if Kobe Bryant was never a basketball player, I would not have been the basketball fan I am now,” Moore said. “He got me into it, he got me playing it. He really influenced me and inspired me to take extra steps.”

Moore has been a Lakers fan since he turned on the television to a Lakers game as a freshman in high school. A student at UTRGV, he said processing Bryant’s death has been difficult.

“It’s so hard to think that someone you never met would have that much of an affect on you,” Moore said.

“But I will remember Kobe by his passion — his passion for the game, passion for what he loved to do.”

Moore was wearing a No. 24 jersey, the number Kobe wore to his retirement in 2016 since his 2006-07 season. It was a Christmas gift he received four years ago. Tuesday was the first time he wore it.

Also donning Lakers jerseys were Sam Alvarez Jr., and his son, Sammy Alvarez III, who had floor seats to the game. Sam, like Moore, wore a No. 24 jersey, while Sammy had on a No. 8 jersey, the number Kobe wore in his debut in 1996.

Sam said that anyone who knows him is aware he is a Lakers fan.

“I feel like I grew up with him, I feel like I have known him,” said Sam, also 41. “I followed his whole career, I was a Lakers fan before Kobe joined, but when he did, I knew that he was something special.

“41 is just too early.”

It has been a few years since Sam played basketball with his 5-year-old son, but on Sunday morning, Sammy brought out the Lakers basketball he got for Christmas. The pair went to the park to play, and came back to hear the news.

“We just came back from the park when we found out,” Sam said. “You hope that it was false, you hope they were rumors, but they weren’t.”

Sam has seen Bryant play live many times, at Staples Center in Los Angeles and at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, where he attended games as a proud Lakers fan.

The Edinburg arena joined cities across the world in paying respect to the Bryant, a five-time NBA champion.

Many tributes have used lights to pay respect: The Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, where the 18-time NBA All-Star grew up, will be lit in Lakers colors for the next week; the Santa Monica Pier ferris wheel in Los Angeles is illuminating “24.” Others are showing respect in different ways: Athletes of all sports are writing messages on the rims of their Bryant sneakers; the floor of a communal basketball court in the Philippines is now a mural of Bryant hugging and looking down at his daughter.

And at halftime of the game, Bryant’s Oscar-winning short film, “Dear Basketball,” played on the jumbo screen. The film is based on a poem he wrote in November to announce his retirement the following year.

Part of it reads:

“I’m ready to let you go.

I want you to know now

So we both can savor every moment we have left together.

The good and the bad.

We have given each other

All that we have.”

As the film played, fans across the arena raised their yellow and purple posters, flags and hats. Applause erupted when the film ended.

cdeguzman@themonitor.com