SAN JOSE, Calif. - The unexpected death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and their friends has been difficult for many people to process, but perhaps especially so for children who saw the NBA star as their hero.
At the Alviso Youth Center, practice isn't the same for the middle school students from the South Bay Scholars Basketball Academy. They are still reeling from the death of Bryant and his daughter.
“I was feeling depressed, not feeling good, because Kobe Bryant was one of the most famous basketball players and he died in a helicopter crash,” said 11-year-old Nathan Le.
“He’s very young and to lose someone that inspired people, it's really sad,” said 10-year-old Andrew Duong.
The kids were too young to watch Bryant when he led the Lakers to five championships in the NBA but even after he retired, he’s their hero. They knew of him. For Andrew Duong, he wanted to be like Kobe.
“The way he played, the way he talked, his IQ and how smart he was,” said Duong.
“After we heard what happened to Kobe, it felt strange and it felt like a punch in the gut,” said Assistant Head Coach Kevin Duong.
Disbelief, shock and sadness over Byyant's death have filled the court and many others. Many young players asked how and why did it happen.
“People have such a connection to these celebrities,” said Santa Clara University Psychology Professor Thomas Plante. “It’s almost as if they know them.”
Dr. Plante said many children likely viewed Bryant as a friend, maybe even part of the family.
He said images of the crash can retraumatize kids. Instead of dwelling on the details, he advises to focus on feelings.
“Taking it seriously, letting kids talk about it, being mindful of where they are developmentally and trying to find positive ways of mourning about it,” said Dr. Plante.
Coaches at the academy are reinforcing what number 24 would have wanted.
"Making him understand you have to work hard and nothing is guaranteed in life,” said Kevin Duong.
For the players, coping means hitting the hardwood harder as they learn a painful lesson along the way.
“How you have to enjoy life because it doesn't last that long, you have to enjoy the moments that you have,” said Andrew Duong.
Doctor Plante said for children who have experienced loss before, Bryant’s death can intensify past grief. He advises if children have prolonged sadness to seek help from a physician or school counselor.