Kobe Bryant's high school coach remembers NBA star year after deadly crash

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Wednesday, January 27, 2021
On anniversary of Kobe's death, Lower Merion coach reflects on legacy
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On the anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death, Lower Merion High School basketball coach Gregg Downer reflects on the star's legacy.

LOWER MERION TWP., Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- It's been one year since the tragic death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, 41, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in California after the helicopter they were riding in crashed on January 26, 2020.

The Lower Merion High School Basketball phenom began making waves when he hit the court playing for The Aces.

SEE ALSO: Lower Merion High School honors Kobe Bryant with special tribute

He quickly rose to stardom opting to skip playing in the NCAA and headed straight to the NBA.

Philadelphia fans claimed Bryant as their own and he loved the city and the region back, visiting often.

Larry's Steaks in West Philadelphia, Kobe's favorite local spot, hosted him whenever he played the 76ers or came through to visit old friends. Larry's Steaks sells the Kobe Cheesesteak in honor of the NBA great.

WATCH: Watch Kobe Bryant's 1996 announcement to skip college - enter NBA

A man inside Larry's who identified himself as "D.K" said they think about Bryant and his family often.

"They ask to see the memorial, they ask for a sandwich, that's never going to stop. We still keep his monument up over here and keep his booth empty. Everyone misses him terribly. It still gets emotional," he said.

Before tip-off, the Lower Merion basketball team paused for 33 seconds to remember the alum on the one year anniversary of his death.

The pandemic has kept students, parents and fans from attending games, but it hasn't stopped Bryant fans from coming to the school.

On Tuesday evening, Hannah Doerner stood outside of the high school gym in Lower Merion Township that bears his name.

"He's just legendary. His meaning to everyone. It's just something that you want to be able to come witness after his death," said Doerner.

Before the world got to meet Kobe, it was his basketball coach Gregg Downer who got to groom the NBA star.

WATCH: Lower Merion High School coach Gregg Downer reflects on anniversary of Kobe Bryant's death

Kobe played for Downer from 1992 to 1996 before going directly to the NBA.

"When it happened I said we lost the heartbeat of Aces nation ... and I really believe there's some validity to that. We lost our heartbeat. It's been a very difficult year. There's reminders of him everywhere," Downer told Action News' Jamie Apody this week.

SEE ALSO: Kobe Bryant's childhood home for sale in Wynnewood, Pa.