Like so many basketball fans across the country, the Romero family did not want to believe the news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26.
Tony Romero, Central Christian College of Kansas’ head men’s basketball coach, received the news on his phone while returning from a game in Texas. He immediately relayed the information to his wife via text, who then told their son.
“I didn’t think it was real. When I found out it was real, I was pretty sad,” said Ty Romero, 13.
The impact and legacy of Kobe Bryant transcended generations. Tony Romero was in high school when Kobe entered the league in 1996 and grew up a big Michael Jordan fan.
Ty Romero did not have the opportunity to witness Kobe’s career from start to finish, but there was more to Kobe than posterizing dunks, clutch 3-pointers, and five NBA Championships.
“I was a really big Kobe fan because he worked hard and never quit,” Ty said. “He played hard on offense and defense, and his determination to be great was there every night.”
While countless basketball fans across the world were still in shock from that infamous Sunday, Ty turned his sadness into determination.
His Elyria Christian School Junior High basketball team had a home game against Burrton the following day. Ty told his parents the night before he wanted to score 24 points - Kobe’s number for the latter half of his career - to honor one of the game’s greats.
“I thought it was cool he wanted to honor and show compassion to one of the guys he looked up to,” Tony said, “but I told him not to worry about it, and instead focus on making the right play, the right passes, and if it happens, it happens.
“Ty loves basketball. He goes out and plays hard.”
Ty had never scored 24 points for his junior high team before. He recalled scoring 25 or 26 points in a summer game, but that was his career high.
However, Ty’s Jan. 27 game was different.
“It was a special game,” Ty said. “Me and my teammates wanted to do our best to honor Kobe, and that was our ultimate goal.”
Near the end of the third quarter, Ty had 22 points and his team was up big. Ty had to convince his coaches to stay in the game, because they were ready to put in the subs.
“I told my coach to let me play one more possession,” Ty said.
Ty capitalized on his final possession. After a teammate missed a free throw, Ty tracked down the long rebound and immediately attacked the basket. His layup was good, and he went to the bench with 24 points.
“Most kids would be excited about getting 24, but for Ty, he was relieved he did something for someone,” Tony said. “It was his way of honoring Kobe. His sadness was still there, which I think shows compassion.”
Led by 24 points from Ty, the Elyria Junior High team defeated Burrton, 63-22. The score differential, 41 points, was also the age of Kobe when he passed away.
“Kobe had the ability to inspire people in the present and in the future,” Tony said. “That will be his legacy. His ability to inspire husbands, coaches, and kids throughout the years, during his playing career and past his retirement. The youth and beyond have the opportunity to show the legacy that Kobe left behind.”