ALBANY — Both on the walls of his bedroom back home in Rochester and in his room on campus at Siena College in Loudonville, Saints men’s basketball sophomore star Jalen Pickett has several posters of Kobe Bryant. Along with several of his Siena teammates, Pickett counts Bryant — who died Sunday in a helicopter crash that killed multiple people, including the basketball legend’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna — as his favorite athlete.
“I love him. Rest in peace,” Pickett said Sunday after Siena’s 84-61 win against Quinnipiac at Times Union Center. “This is going to stay with me for a little bit.”
Pickett and his teammates were playing Sunday when news first spread of Bryant’s death. They learned of Bryant’s death after Sunday’s game, then held a moment of silence in their locker room in honor of the former Los Angeles Lakers star who won five NBA titles.
“I didn’t believe it,” Pickett said of his initial reaction.
Along with Pickett, junior Manny Camper, freshman Gary Harris — a Los Angeles native — and freshman Jordan King list Bryant as their favorite athlete on their player pages on the Saints’ website. Siena head coach Carmen Maciariello noted in his opening statement during Sunday’s post-game press conference that Bryant was a “childhood hero” for several of his players, and that he knew some of them were “pretty hurt.”
“It makes you realize how precious life is,” Maciariello said later. “We’re all just thankful to be here. . . . It’s sad. The world lost a great ambassador [for] the game of basketball.”
News of Bryant’s death was met with an outpouring of tributes on social media. That included posts from those with connections to the area’s basketball scene.
“Such a sad day. RIP to a legend,” tweeted former Glens Falls High School star Jimmer Fredette, who was a first-round NBA draft pick in 2011. “He was an inspiration to so many including myself. Prayers to his loved ones right now. #mamba.”
“Heroes come and go, but legends never die,” tweeted former UAlbany men’s basketball star Peter Hooley, his message bookended with a purple and gold hearts, and posted with a photo of Bryant.
“Some people impact your life & regardless if you know them personally, their passing is devastating,” Skidmore men’s basketball head coach Joe Burke tweeted. “Maybe it’s our Philly connection or basketball or because as I write this I’m with my 4 kids in our family room. I don’t know. This is hard to swallow. God Bless his family #Kobe.”
Bryant was 41 years old. On Saturday night, current Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James passed Bryant to become the NBA’s all-time, third-leading scorer.
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother,” Bryant tweeted Saturday night, along with an emoji of a flexed arm and a hashtag noting James’ milestone point.
Hours later, Bryant was dead, the result of a tragic accident.
“It kind of puts things in perspective,” Maciariello said of Bryant’s death. “Obviously, we just won a big game, [but], for me, it’s about the bigger picture. Obviously, life is precious and things can be taken from you in an instant.”
Pickett said he grew up in a “big Lakers family,” and that Bryant was the player he rooted for the hardest. Pickett modeled his post-up game after Bryant’s, but said he supported the player mostly because of “just how he competed every time” on the court.
“Just gone way too soon,” Pickett said.