By Jeff Wagner

RICHFIELD, Minn. (WCCO) – Many people across the Twin Cities, from children to adults, laced up their basketball shoes Sunday just minutes after learning of Kobe Bryant’s death.

“I’m trying not to miss today,” said Keem Anderson. “We trying to get that ‘Mamba Mentality.’ We want the win first and foremost.”

As Anderson and his teammates strive to get that victory during their rec league at Holy Angels Academy, it’s impossible for them to keep their minds solely on the task at hand.

“It’s tragic, man,” Anderson said. “It’s just tragic.”

News of Bryant’s death quickly spread through the gym, literally leaving people speechless.

“We stopped the game about 30 minutes ago,” said Aaron Turner, who was working as a referee. “It was a moment of silence organically. That was tough.”

Nearly all of the men in the league were in their 20s or older, basketball fans who grew up saying “Kobe” before shooting a ball or anything resembling one.

“I started with socks as a little kid. You have to emulate somebody,” Turner said about how he practiced Bryant’s fadeaway jumpshot.

Anderson, who grew up a Los Angeles Lakers fan, said he utters Kobe’s name to this day before lining up a shot.

“Now it’s gonna mean a lot more,” he said.

Even those still growing up paid homage to the fallen superstar.

At a middle school basketball tournament at Edina High School, one player wrote “R.I.P. Kobe” on his shoes. Another eighth grader, Ty Swanson, who plays for Osseo-Maple Grove, specifically wore his Kobe Bryant Nike basketball shoes. He said he couldn’t believe the news of Kobe’s death when his father told him about it. He planned to play with Bryant’s famous work ethic known as the “Mamba Mentality.”

“Just like work hard and let nothing make you mad, sad, or emotional,” Swanson said. “Just to work harder than everyone else.”

Turner, who coaches basketball at White Bear Lake High School, said that same work ethic is impressed upon his players.

“Strike first, play hard, and be willing to do anything it takes to win and be successful,” he said. It’s a mantra now attached to unfortunately just a memory of the player they idolized.

“It’s definitely a surreal kind of feeling,” Anderson said. “It’s definitely ironic that we’re here playing basketball and hooping today. But (I) wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Jeff Wagner