The hues of purple and gold glowed amid a sea of red, white and black Sunday at the Thomas &Mack Center, specifically the hues of Los Angeles Lakers jerseys.
Some No. 8. Some No. 24.
All with “Bryant” either screen-printed or stitched on the back.
“That’s my favorite player. My idol. Seeing him it was just like a dream come true,” said 32-year-old Darell Goodson, a native of Compton, California, and lifelong Lakers fan who wore a gold No. 8 to watch the Rebels play San Diego State.
“I damn near came to tears,” he added, pausing briefly. “That was my favorite player.”
Fans and players alike at the Thomas &Mack Center mourned the late Kobe Bryant, the Lakers legend and basketball icon who died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning alongside his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. Two Rebels have roots in Southern California. So do several Aztecs, along with plenty of others who attended UNLV’s 71-67 Mountain West loss.
“Everything I’ve done, I’ve dedicated to his work ethic because of how he treated the game of basketball,” said Danny Warnemuende, 32, who drove from San Diego this morning to cheer the Aztecs — and donned a white Lakers No. 24 in Bryant’s honor. “It’s a dark day.”
Warnemuende left San Diego at 6 a.m. and didn’t bring his Bryant jersey to Las Vegas. His friend and fellow Southern Californian Justin Padilla lives in Las Vegas, though, and brandished a white No. 24 for him to wear to the game Sunday when they learned of his death.
Padilla also wore No. 24, but in black, an alternate uniform typically reserved for diehard fans who already have the classic purple, gold and yellow editions.
“He was my idol,” said Padilla, 31. “I’ve been in so many arguments with people and friends defending Kobe and talking about about how he’s the greatest to me of all time. How unstoppable he was at scoring. … The things that he did, not only on the court but off the court.”
Some Bryant fans declined interview requests, and understandably so. But they didn’t need to speak to communicate their feelings. The purple and gold jerseys said plenty. UNLV recognized Bryant with a moment of silence before the game.
The players recognized him afterward.
“Kobe Bryant is arguably the best player in the world to ever play basketball,” Rebels sophomore guard Marvin Coleman said. “That hurts the basketball community as a whole.”
Rebels coach T.J. Otzelberger built on Coleman’s sentiment, noting that Bryant is ”obviously a basketball icon” and that a lot of Rebels players admired him. And Coleman was joined at the postgame news conference by teammate Bryce Hamilton, who hails from Pasadena, California.
Hamilton was relatively mum about Bryant after the game, indicating only that it was a tragedy.
“My condolences to his family,” said Hamilton, a two-guard like Bryant. “I was just trying to focus on the game.”
Sounds an awful lot like the Mamba Mentality — Bryant’s oft-stated commitment to “always try to be the best version of yourself.”
“Kobe Bryant to me — and a bunch of people in our generation can relate to this — Kobe just teaches you the mentality that you have to put in 110 percent 100 percent of the time,” said 23-year-old Josh Lazano, a Las Vegan and lifelong Bryant fan. “I look at it like this: It’s like Kobe Bryant would just keep on going. … We’ll remember him in silence.”