Loss of Kobe Bryant felt at Boys & Girls Club of Whittier
WHITTIER — The void left by the death of Kobe Bryant is being felt globally, including here in Whittier.
At the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier, staff members and children mourned not only a basketball player, but a role model with whom they shared an intimate connection.
In 2017, Bryant, launched the Mamba League, a youth basketball program for kids ages 8-10. Created in partnership with Nike, the Mamba League was unlike other youth sports programs that emphasized competition. Instead, the Mamba League aimed “to inspire girls and boys to learn basketball fundamentals and to build self-assuredness through an active, healthy lifestyle.”
“This is more than just a competition,” Bryant said in a press release at the program’s launch. “The league is about empowering players and coaches and seeing kids increase their self-confidence as young leaders both on and off the court.”
Bryant, the father of four girls, later said he was proud that nearly half of the league’s roster was comprised of girls.
Bryant and Nike chose four underserved L.A. County communities to launch Mamba League: Nickerson Gardens in Watts, Monterey Park, Venice, and Whittier.
Oscar Hernandez, executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Whittier, said the Mamba League was a popular program at his facility, with about 80-100 students participating. Each elementary school from the Whittier City School District fielded a team of about 8-10 players.
Although Bryant never visited the Whittier Boys & Girls Club, kids got to meet him after advancing to a championship tournament.
“It was very exciting,” Hernandez said. “Very seldom do kids get a chance to meet a superstar like him.”
According to Hernandez, Whittier was the underdog in the championship game and trailed early. Bryant gathered the team at halftime for a pep talk.
“That was a special moment for the kids,” said Hernandez. “They were really inspired by Kobe’s words and his message of never giving up. They went on to win that game thanks to Kobe.”
Hernandez said staff members at the Boys & Girls Club were struggling to cope with Bryant’s passing but they remained thankful for his impact.
“Like everybody else, we were very fortunate to be part of Kobe’s legacy and what he was able to create,” said Hernandez. “He made so many dreams possible for kids. He gave a lot of opportunities to our kids. He’s going to be missed.”