By Leah Vann
LOS ANGELES – Two weeks ago, Tiger Woods learned of Kobe Bryant’s death from his caddie Joe LaCava as he walked off the 18th green at Torrey Pines. As he tees off for the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club this week, he’s still grappling with the death of a friend.
“Part of me thinks that it’s not real,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I don’t really know what I said post-round. I was in shock just like everyone else, trying to put it in words going forward. The reality of the situation is Kobe and Gigi are not here, but that’s hard to accept.”
On Monday night at the Staples Center, 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel said he now hangs his Bryant jerseys in the front of his closet.
“It’s heartbreaking, to be honest,” Manziel said. “Never have I ever been treated better by anybody that I’ve ever met who is in the position that he’s been in. That meant a lot to me. I ended up training at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, too. It’s hard to really put into words what it really is right now.”
Manziel, a Texas native, has been living in Los Angeles for only six years, but like many fans at the Lakers-Suns game, he claims Bryant as an athlete of his generation.
“We grew up watching him play week in and week out, whether it was other athletes or people in general, what he was doing off the court,” Manziel said. “It’s terrible that he’s gone so soon.”
While the rest of the country’s wounds from Bryant’s death heal, the people of Los Angeles feel like they’re waiting to have their stitches removed. A public memorial is set for Monday, Feb. 24 on purpose because Gianna’s number was 2 while Bryant’s was 24. But until then, locals remain in a limbo of grief, going through the motions of their daily lives.
Season-ticket holder Matt Hannah and his wife, Julia, said it was a struggle just being in the Staples Center on Monday since it was their first game after his death.
“I don’t know if we’ll come back for a while,” Matt said. “Kobe was three years older than I am. I have two kids. I have a daughter. What meant to him the most was being a dad and a husband and basketball. He passed away being a dad and it struck home a little bit more.”
Julia vividly remembers Jan. 26, when she was casually scrolling through Instagram while on the phone with her mother, and saw TMZ’s post about Bryant’s death. She yelled for Matt from the kitchen of their home and the two browsed the internet to confirm the news.
To them, losing Bryant was like losing a family member, they said. He was a part of their love story.
“My first Lakers game ever was watching Kobe with Matt,” Julia said. “We’re high school sweethearts. I was falling in love with Matt and was also at the same time falling in love with basketball and Kobe.”
In downtown L.A., there are billboards, chalkboard signs outside of restaurants and buses bearing the name of the basketball icon the city claimed as its own.
This was only the second game without the fan-constructed memorial outside of Staples Center, but on the court, dark emblems with the initials “KB” remain painted on either end, the numbers 8 and 24 flanking either side of half-court. In the rafters, all other retired jerseys have been removed but Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24, now solitary against a black backdrop.
At times over the last two weeks, Lakers fans have broken out in “Kobe, Kobe” chants to rally the team, now 4-2 since Bryant’s death, including a 125-100 victory over the Suns.
Shari Lee, a Los Angeles-based grief counselor for Downtown L.A. Therapy, said people find acceptance in grieving Bryant’s death as a community.
“A really powerful component of grief is the ritual of having a destination, having a place to be amongst other people you may not even know, but there’s a real shared connection there,” Lee said. “I think the idea of Kobe as this iconic figure that represents a team, represents the city, is, on a larger scale, a familial event.”
Not all are memorializing Bryant, however. In 2003, a 19-year-old woman accused Bryant of rape in Eagle, Colorado. He later settled the case in a civil suit in 2005.
For survivors of sexual assault, the tributes to Kobe can be triggering. In a story by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Jan. 30, Monique Howard, executive director of The Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence, said more women have been reaching out to counselors and friends since Bryant’s death.
“We’re aware people are triggered — their symptoms are increased anxiety, less or more sleeping, less or more appetite,” Howard said.
Lee said people tend to overlook certain things about a person when they are grieving.
“There’s an idealization that happens and that makes it more palatable,” Lee said.
Yet women like Julia Hannah don’t recognize Bryant as guilty of rape.
“Just because someone makes a claim, doesn’t mean you’re automatically guilty,” Hannah said.
Laura Michael, an LA-born fan now living in Miami, wore Bryant’s No. 24 jersey Monday night. Bryant came into the league wearing No. 8, saying he had to prove he was worthy of playing there. He started wearing No. 24 during the 2006-07 season, he said, to show his growth both on and off the court.
“He’s came out admittedly saying he made a mistake, and you can’t keep putting someone down and bringing it up,” Michael said. “How do you move forward at that point? Kobe, that’s all he was trying to do is be better and be the greatest.”
The crowd in the Staples Center cleared quickly from the concourse at halftime, but Matt and Julia remained standing by a Lakers’ pillar, watching through the doorway. Matt went to Bryant’s first and last game as a Laker, and two of the championships he won for the city of L.A.
He wears a hat from the last championship in 2010.
“The way we deal with it is just not thinking about it and just pretending it’s not real,” Matt said. “It just flat-out sucks.”