LOS ANGELES — Hundreds of fans gathered Sunday near the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles following the death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash that stunned the sports world and beyond.
"This dude is everything to me man, it makes no sense," said Bobby Jimenez, sobbing as he stood outside the venue where Bryant wowed fans for 2 decades.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and 7 others perished early Sunday in the crash on a hillside in the town of Calabasas, northwest of downtown Los Angeles.
Jimenez said Bryant had been a role model for him growing up, and he had flown all around the country to see him play.
"Every parade, I was here. His last game, I was here," he said. "That's my guy."
Several fans carried placards with images of the Los Angeles Lakers legend and signs that said, "RIP, love you Kobe #24."
Others chanted "Let's go Kobe."
A giant electronic billboard at the LA Live Plaza near the Staples Center also had a picture of the basketball great with a message that read: "In Loving Memory Of Kobe Bryant 1978-2020.
One fan placed a wreath outside the Center, which was cordoned off by police because of the Grammys ceremony taking place later Sunday.
He said he heard about the news while driving in Hollywood and headed to a flower shop to purchase a bouquet to honor his idol.
"We grew up watching him play," said Sam Krautonog, 19, who wore a Lakers jersey. "My grandpa is 82 and he cried when he heard the news.
Luca Gardio, also 19, said his family was devastated upon hearing the news.
"Kobe goes beyond basketball," Gardio said, adding that he had been lucky enough to attend Bryant's last game.
Gennesys Cabral, a Lakers fans, said Bryant's death was even more painful than losing a family member.
"I’ve lost family members, and I know it sounds messed up but it didn’t hurt this bad," he told AFP. "Losing Kobe is really, really close to losing a family member because he was a LA legend.
"He made you believe things that were impossible, that would be possible, that could be done."
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also paid tribute to the basketball legend, saying in a tweet that he "will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.
"Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court -- and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved," Garcetti added.
© Agence France-Presse