Kobe Bryant and Christian Mbachu

The Lakers Youth Foundation has sponsored various events with The Boys & Girls Club of the San Fernando Valley in Pacoima. One event, held at the Lakers practice facility in 2014, created a special memory for Club President and CEO Nicole Chase.

“It was a holiday celebration,” Chase said. “That day, the kids — there must have been 100 of them — went into an area where the Lakers ate lunch. Some of the players came in, ate with some of them, played video games with them. Kobe comes in, and they all want to meet Kobe. There was a long line; the kids go up, shake Kobe’s hand, he says hello, and they take a picture.”

She said Kobe was quiet but patient throughout the process. But that all changed. 

“We had one young man — Christian Mbachu, maybe 9 — who has this amazing smile from ear-to-ear. He goes up, sits next to Kobe to take a picture, says something to Kobe — referring to him as the ‘Black Mamba’ — and Kobe fell out laughing. And Christian is still grinning,” she said.

“I remember that moment because there are moments that remind you that even a phenomenal man like this is human. And this kid got to his heart. I’m quite sure thousands of kids did so. But to see that moment where he got to Kobe’s heart or hit his funny bone — he just laughed so hard. And Kobe’s whole disposition changed. It went from ‘Okay I’m here, I love the kids, let’s take a picture,’ to them having this moment and laughing.”

Unfortunately, the lasting image many will have of Bryant is of someone cut down while in a prime period of life. What’s still to come is the funeral, and testimonies to try and comfort grieving survivors and supporters.

What’s left is the memories and the legacy and how they will be continually interpreted.