‘Bigger than basketball’: Former, current Lower Merion players grieve the loss of hometown hero

Shara Dae Howard
January 27, 2020 - 5:06 pm
Kobe Bryant memorial at Lower Merion High School

Tim Jimenez/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Lower Merion High School students started Monday morning with a somber 33 seconds of silence — 33 seconds for the number worn by the late Kobe Bryant during his Lower Merion career.

Donned in all black to signal their mourning, former and current students honored their hometown hero, who was killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Southern California on Sunday, along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others. Bryant was 41.

“His presence was always there when we were playing,” said former Lower Merion student and basketball player Steve Meehan. “He always came back. He never left the community.”

Bryant was a larger-than-life figure who never forgot his Philly roots. Meehan said Bryant embodied the Lower Merion community.

“That was a really important aspect of who he was and who we are as Lower Merion basketball and the Lower Merion community,” he added.

Brandon Brooks, another former Lower Merion player, remembered how Bryant would return to the school and make time for everyone.

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“You'd see him through the hallways when he came back if he was in town, and he would pull us out of the classrooms,” he recalled, “especially if we were on the basketball team. He would pull us out and talk to us individually.”

Current Lower Merion junior Bridget McCann said she felt inspired by the way Bryant supported his daughter, 13-year-old Gianna, in basketball. The teen and aspiring basketball star died in the crash with her father.

“Just watching him coach his daughter's AAU team showed he cared just as much about girls programs as he did guys, and that’s so powerful,” she said.

Guy Stewart, a longtime friend of Bryant who also played alongside him, said he elevated everyone on and off the court.

“On the court, he pushed me to work on my game. Off the court, he always pushed you to become a better father, a better man,” said Stewart, who graduated in 1995.

“He was bigger than basketball,” he added, holding back tears. “It was deeper than basketball.”