F. Castro / SFVS

Julio Hernandez shows off his “Kobe” sneakers at Las Palmas Park.

One of Ray Herrera’s fondest memories is the day his mother took him out of middle school in the San Fernando Valley and took him to see the Lakers parade celebrating one of their championships.

On the open bus tour was Robert Horry, Shaquille O’Neal, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Kobe Bryant, the young shooting guard who a few years before had made the jump from high school to the NBA.

“It was the coolest thing my mom did,” remembers the San Fernando resident.

“It was one of the most memorable days of my childhood.” 

The 30-year-old grew up cheering for the Lakers, and is now heartbroken at the passing of Bryant.

“It’s really crushing. He’s a big part of my childhood growing up. Part of my childhood died with his passing,” says Herrera.

“He meant a lot to me.”

Herrera remembers going to Lakers games with his dad, and watching Bryant as he developed into one of the team’s biggest stars.

“I didn’t grow up watching (Michael) Jordan play. Kobe was the Jordan of my generation,” he said.

He felt sad when Bryant retired in 2016 after 20 years with the Lakers.  But nothing could compare with Bryant’s passing, which shocked Herrera, as it did the entire world.

Herrera was at home watching a movie on Sunday, Jan. 26, when his wife came in and told him Kobe had died in a helicopter crash.

“I said, ‘what Kobe?’,” he said. Then he realized she was talking about Bryant and “I got up and ran to my phone,” while at the same time flipping through the TV channels in search of news confirming the accident.

“I just thought this can’t be real,” Herrera said. “I was very overwhelmed. It was a crushing moment.”

Herrera said he turned off TV news and talk radio because “I didn’t want to hear about it” anymore.

“I felt like (I was) going empty inside,” he said. “I didn’t want to relieve the memory. I grieved the loss already.”

Sadness All Around

Bryant’s tragic death has left a trail of sadness and shock across the San Fernando Valley among basketball fans and every Angeleno who either saw him do amazing things on the court, leading the Lakers to all their recent NBA championships, or simply knew about him as he became a celebrity that transcended the sports world.

But it is obvious among basketball fans that his legend was stamped forever, according to a few players at Las Palmas Park in San Fernando.

Ernie Ortiz grew up watching Bryant as he celebrated a “three-peat” championship run between 2000-2002, and two more titles in 2009 and 2010.

It’s the last one that Ortiz remembers the most because it came on a special day for him — his high school graduation day.

“By the time we left the graduation ceremony there were cars with Lakers flags all over,” said Ortiz, 28.

Ortiz calls Bryant a “positive” role model, and is still upset by his passing.

“It was just shocking, unbelievable at first,” he said. “It was a pretty sad day for LA.”

It was equally shocking for Julio Hernandez, who was wearing purple-and-gold Lakers shorts as he shot hoops in the park.

“He had a big impact on my life,” the 15-year-old said of Bryant. “Any down moment in my life, it made me happy when I’d see him. It was just inspiring.”

“It’s sad knowing he’s gone and I won’t see him anymore,” added Hernandez, who paid homage to the Lakers great in his own small way by writing “Kobe” and “Bryant” on each of his shoes.