Bryant joined the Lakers just after high school in 1996, and while he was famous at the time, he was far removed from the fame he would experience over the next two decades as a five-time champion and NBA MVP.
Before he would become popular in the world, one family spotted Bryant at a Los Angeles-area entertainment and shopping center shortly after he was chosen in the 1996 NBA Draft.
“My family came across him hanging out by himself at Universal City Walk,” Facebook user Celeste Perez recalled in a public Facebook post on Tuesday. “Wearing an all-white ensemble and a beret to top it off, Kobe looked like a lost member of Boyz II Men, looming tall over hundreds of CityWalk-goers.”
According to Perez, no one in the shopping center recognized Bryant. So, the family introduces themselves to future superstars.
“I clearly remember his face lighting up when she asked if he was Kobe Bryant,” she said of the family member who approached Bryant. “He motioned for all of us to come over, and so we all did. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles, cousins, babies — he greeted our entire family warmly, answering all of our questions.”
The family had a camera, it had run out of the film. They even have no pen or paper around, they couldn’t ask for Bryant’s autograph.
Still, they didn’t miss the chance and invited Bryant to dinner with them at a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. nearby.
Wrote Perez, “So, we said goodbye and good luck, and in true Filipino fashion, invited him to have dinner with us at the new Bubba Gump’s. He declined, so we went to dinner, each one of us impressed with his kindness.”
But the story does not end here.
Bryant later tracked them down at the restaurant and give them postcards he had purchased and autographed for them. He signed them, simply, “Kobe Bryant, #8.”
“We must have been among the first to ask him for an autograph, I realize now,” she said.
Many, like Perez, shared their thoughts about Bryant’s determination and dedication to basketball and family.
“We had no idea we’d be watching him for the next 20 years, through a three-peat and back-to-back championships that brought LA together, through countless records and thrilling games, through his beautiful, loving family and a short but successful retirement. Kobe inspired so many of us, in my family and in this town,” she wrote in her post.
“From him we learned to never be afraid to be the best, to demand excellence from yourself and those around you,” Perez continued, “and to commit yourself to your craft, your family, whatever it is you choose to create.”
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