Kobe Bryant Remembered

Kirt Ramirez
LAKER LARRY Beauchamp mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant

Like many others across Long Beach, the nation, and the world, Larry Beauchamp was devastated when he learned Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had perished in a helicopter crash last Sunday morning.

Born in Philadelphia on August 23, 1978, Kobe Bean Bryant, 41, along with eight others, including his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, died in the Calabasas accident during heavy fog Jan. 26, the media reported. The crash remains under investigation.

Beauchamp, known as “Laker Larry,” watched news coverage of the tragedy all day Sunday from his north Long Beach home.

“I met Kobe in ’96 when he was first drafted to the Hornets and traded to the Lakers,” recalled Beauchamp, 53, a serious Laker fan since 1979 who has been to more than 1,000 games. “He was such a nice guy, 17-years old.”

Beauchamp said he congratulated Bryant for joining the L.A. team and the two exchanged nice words. He said Bryant had injured his hand the previous day.

Though Beauchamp only talked with Bryant that one time 24 years ago, Beauchamp continued to watch Bryant from the stands over the years, despite being confined to a wheelchair since 2005, which displays Lakers decorations.

“He wouldn’t lose,” said Beauchamp, a VA volunteer. “He would do anything to be the greatest basketball player.”

After spending a reported 16 days with the Charlotte Hornets, Bryant would spend a celebrated 20-year NBA career with the Lakers and was known off the courts for being a loving father and humanitarian.

“I feel sorry for Vanessa and the other three daughters,” Beauchamp said of Bryant’s wife and surviving children, who, according to In Touch Weekly, are Natalia Diamante, 17, Bianka Bella, 3, and Capri Kobe, 7 months.

Eric “Mufasa” Johnson, a Gallagher’s Pub & Grill employee, said he was sitting in his Latter-day Saints church when someone next to him informed him of Bryant’s passing. Johnson said he couldn’t believe it and later cried after watching others share stories on television.

Johnson said he met Bryant in the Staples Center locker room 15 years ago, thanks to a buddy who did audio engineering for the venue.

“And so that night he said, ‘Hey do you want to come meet the guys down there?’ And I was like, ‘What? Are you crazy?’” Johnson recalled of his friend’s offer. “He invites me down. I go down there, and he let me sort of freelance, if you will, with everybody that was down there; Shaq’s down there, Rick Fox and Kobe.”

Johnson, 60, said he doesn’t like to idolize other men, but at the same time knew his two oldest daughters adored Bryant and would love to have his autograph. He expressed feeling awkward at asking the celebrity for his signature.

“I knew that if my daughters heard that I was there and I didn’t get an autograph from Kobe, it would be the end of me as a father,” Johnson said. “But I had to also overcome my fear of asking another man for an autograph, because I felt like I was putting him above me.”

Johnson, wearing a Bryant shirt, said he was raised that it’s okay to acknowledge a man but not to worship him.

“So I said to Kobe, ‘I don’t feel comfortable asking you this, but my daughters would love to get an autograph from you,’” Johnson said.

Bryant, according to Johnson, responded by saying he would give the autographs but that Johnson could have simply asked without making up a story that it’s for the daughters.

“I was like, no, no, no, honestly, I have daughters,” Johnson said. “So I pulled my pictures out and showed him the two most beautiful little girls and he even acknowledged them as beautiful little girls, and then we talked about fatherhood and stuff like that.”

Johnson said he offered to give his own signature to Bryant in exchange for Bryant’s signatures and said other Lakers legends observed this with humor.

“And so Shaq, Rick Fox, everybody made fun of him, made fun of me about it, and whatever,” Johnson said, adding Bryant agreed to trade autographs with Johnson.

“And so he let me sign a piece of paper with my autograph; I gave him that autograph,” Johnson said. “He accepted it, took it from me, put it in his pocket, and then wrote me down two autographs to each of my daughters.

“And you know for me, that guy, even at that time, was so humble enough to give a guy like me, some regular Joe not even in the business, to give me that moment … is something I’ll never forget.”

Johnson added, “For me, it’s not even about basketball. It’s about the human and the type of man that he was that I get to carry along with me.”

Long Beach resident Valerie King, 66, sported a Bryant Jersey the day of his death.

“I can’t speak, it’s so sad,” she said. “It breaks my heart.”

King said she watched Bryant and colleague LeBron James hug each other on the big screen at Gallagher’s the night prior.

“It was touching,” she said. “It was beautiful because the two men were just hugging.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia Tweeted Jan. 26: “Our love and prayers go out to Vanessa Bryant’s family and friends. This is a horrific loss. We mourn all those lost in this tragic crash. Kobe has an enormous fan base here in Long Beach and we mourn with the rest of the nation.”

An Orange Coast College baseball coach, his wife and daughter, also were killed in the crash.

“The Long Beach Community College District Board of Trustees, Superintendent-President Reagan Romali, and the Long Beach City College campus community are deeply saddened by the news that one of the nine victims who died in Sunday’s helicopter accident in Calabasas was a member of the California Community Colleges family – Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli,” LBCC spokeswoman Stacey Toda emailed the day of the accident.

LBCCD Board of Trustees President Vivian Malauulu said in a statement, “Long Beach City College mourns the tragic loss of Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife Keri, and their daughter Alyssa. LBCC extends our deepest condolences to their family, as well as to the OCC campus community.

“Some of us learned of the devastating news while attending the annual legislative conference of community colleges in Sacramento. Details of the helicopter crash that killed basketball great Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, had been discussed at length, but it wasn’t until the identity of one particular passenger was revealed that unmitigated shockwaves assaulted conference attendees.

“The grief throughout the conference was instant and palpable. It instantly worsened when two additional passengers were identified as his wife, and his daughter.

“Coach Altobelli was a professional who dedicated his career to improving the lives of student-athletes in higher education. His achievements as a coach were remarkable and many community college baseball players owe their professional playing careers to his commitment to helping them get to the next level. As a community college educator, he was one of us, and we share the grief that our sister college is feeling.

“Our entire college community – but especially our athletics department – is reeling by this devastating loss because we understand the sacrifices that Coach Altobelli has made for his program and his players. We send our gravest sympathies to his family and his team.”


[Publisher Note: A friend of the Beeler family passed on the opportunity to be aboard the ill-fated helicopter flight last Sunday. That story is planned for an upcoming Beachcombing column.]


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