DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Before moving to Granville County, Ruben Huntsman grew up in Los Angeles, watching Kobe Bryant in person become one of the NBA’s all-time greats.
“We graduated high school at the same time, so you feel like you grew up with him,” Huntsman said.
This weekend, Huntsman was caught off guard.
It was at Tobacco Road Sports Cafe in Durham that he learned Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.
“It’s going to be hard-hitting for a lot of people,” he said. “You hate to hear about something like that, especially the fact he was with his daughter and some others.”
Smith Hardy, a local sports photographer, followed Bryant’s career closely.
“It was hard to believe, somebody who was a legend, that was the closest to Michael Jordan,” Hardy said. “You didn’t hear about him in the news or media. He stayed out of trouble. He was somebody that was under the radar.”
Duke Men’s Basketball Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski coached Bryant for Team USA in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
Krzyzewski released this statement following Bryant’s death:
“We have tragically lost one of the greatest sports figures of our time with the passing of Kobe Bryant. He was an incredibly gifted person who was universally respected. He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport. I had the amazing honor of coaching Kobe in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, and I will always remember how much he cherished representing his country in a first-class manner playing the game he so loved. The game of basketball is better today because of Kobe, and he deserves eternal appreciation for that. This is a devastating loss, made even more tragic by the passing of his daughter, Gianna, and all others on board. The entire Krzyzewski family is saddened as we genuinely loved and admired Kobe. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Vanessa, their daughters Natalia, Bianka, and Capri, and the families of those involved.”
In 2017, when asked if he went to college and which school he would’ve played for, Bryant tweeted, “Duke.”
“You think what year he would’ve come in, and the rivalry with Duke-Carolina,” Hardy said. “It would’ve been unbelievable to see a player like that come and play at Duke.”
For Huntsman, he’ll remember Bryant as a winner, champion and a player who was fun to watch.
“He made non-basketball fans become fans,” Huntsman said.
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