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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 1:48 am | Fair 43º


Lakers Star Kobe Bryant Visits Santa Barbara Boys & Girls Club

In town for his basketball academy at UCSB, NBA all-star speaks at a benefit luncheon and urges children to find their passion and follow it

A crowd of purple and yellow jerseys filled the basketball gym at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Barbara on Friday as Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant attended a fundraiser luncheon to benefit the organization.

“MVP! MVP!” people screamed, greeting him with cheers and camera phones.

The $70,000-plus in proceeds will be divided evenly among the local organization and the Kobe Bryant Family Foundation, according to development coordinator Donna Reeves.

She said that in addition to eager members of the public who paid $200 per ticket, several corporations bought tables and populated them with children.

Bryant is in town for his Kobe Basketball Academy at UCSB, which runs through Sunday and hosts about 650 children ages 8 to 18. The camp has been growing each year, and Bryant said he gets pure enjoyment out of it. Santa Barbara reminds him of calm, peaceful towns in Italy, he told the media before the luncheon.

Although he knew he wanted to be a basketball player since age 3, his message to children was to find their passion and enjoy life, whatever it may be.

“They should find something they truly love to do and put their focus and enthusiasm toward that,” Bryant said.

The camp’s players come from all over, and Bryant said the game can bridge language and financial barriers. His camp came with a price tag of $575 to $700 per player, but he said he found inexpensive ways to practice while growing up, including tying a bottomless crate to a telephone pole and throwing rolled-up socks at a crayon mark on the wall.

“There are ways you can be creative in playing basketball, if you have the enthusiasm to do it,” he said.

Reeves said two Boys & Girls Club members received scholarships to the camp.

Fresh off the NBA Finals, Bryant said he’s “not chomping for anything but a rest” and is enjoying his vacation time.

“This is fun for me,” he said. “I don’t need to psych myself up for this.”

The inevitable subject of LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat came up, and Bryant said he was “happy for (James) because he seems happy.”

Bryant’s appearance was set up in part by local lawyer Jerry Howard, who spoke about his childhood growing up in Santa Barbara. He was a Boys & Girls Club member, and said he made lifelong friends at Franklin School before moving on to college and law school.

The only incident that was unbecoming to the philanthropic mood of the luncheon was the apparent theft of Bryant’s sunglasses after the news conference in the club’s library, as this reporter was searched upon leaving.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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