Island's basketball community mourns Kobe: 'Everyone is feeling gutted'

The Island’s basketball community has reacted profoundly to the death of Kobe Bryant, and it’s clear his impact on his sport transcended borders and eras.

“I got texts from my players immediately Sunday, and they feel the loss, and are really hurt and saddened. For many of them, he was their guy — the player they grew up watching and idolizing,” said Craig Beaucamp, head coach of the University of Victoria Vikes.

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“Everyone in our sport is feeling gutted. Kobe did so much for the game and was revered throughout the basketball world. He was a universal player who could play inside and out on the court.”

Bryant and his eldest daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, also known as Gigi, died Sunday in a helicopter crash north of Los Angeles. Authorities said nine people were on the helicopter and that all were presumed dead. Bryant was 41.

Beaucamp said the Vikes are considering a jersey tribute to Bryant on Friday and Saturday when they meet the University of Manitoba Bisons at CARSA Gymnasium, perhaps wearing pre-game singlets bearing his image during warm-ups.

It was five-time NBA-champion Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers who denied two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash of Victoria the elusive league title when the Islander was with the Phoenix Suns. 

On social media, Nash said: “My heart is broken for Kobe and his family. I’ll never forget the battles but what I really admired was the father he was to his girls. Rest in Peace old friend with your angel Gianna.” Nash ends the message with an emoji of a broken heart.

Kathy Shields, who coached the UVic Vikes women’s team to eight national titles, said Bryant displayed support and respect for the women’s game, in part because of his daughters.

“He had the respect of every basketball player, male or female, from the NBA and on down to every level,” she said.

Like Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, Bryant revolutionized the game, she said. “After Magic, it was Kobe who epitomized the modern player.”

“Kobe could hit the outside shot but also loved to post up and he could take it to the hoop and dunk. He could play anywhere. And his work ethic was relentless in practice. He would practice on his own ... up to eight hours a day in summer.”

Shields and her husband, legendary UVic Vikes men’s coach Ken Shields, saw Bryant’s first-ever pro game as a rookie out of high school in the NBA Summer League. Also there was their friend Del Harris, Bryant’s first NBA coach with the Lakers.

“Del Harris had to come late to the game and asked us when he got there: ‘Well, can Kobe play?’ ” she recalled.

“Ken and I both answered in unison: ‘Yes!’ ”

The tragedy crossed sporting lines: The former coach of three Victoria HarbourCats pitchers was also killed in the crash.

“[Sunday’s] tragic crash has hit close to home,” said a post on the HarbourCats’ Facebook account. The team plays in the West Coast League of baseball.

“Long-time Orange Coast College head baseball coach John Altobelli, and his wife and daughter, were among those killed in the helicopter accident that claimed Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi. Coach Altobelli sent three memorable pitchers to the HarbourCats — Colin Ashworth, Josh Walker and Casey Costello. Our hearts go out to them. We know how much they appreciated Coach [Altobelli] and his family. This news has stunned us all.”

HarbourCats GM Jim Swanson met Altobelli on a scouting trip to California in 2014.

“He was a tremendous guy and a respected coach who ran a great program that sent outstanding players to us,” Swanson said.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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