MILWAUKEE — Growing up in Mission Hills, Calif., Ryan Braun — like just about any kid who grew up in Southern California — loved the Los Angeles Lakers and idolized their superstar, Kobe Bryant.
Sunday, after learning that Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, Braun was stunned, shocked and saddened.
"There aren’t words in my vocabulary to properly articulate the way I feel and I’m sure everybody else feels the same way," said Braun, who's heading into his 14th big league season. "It’s devastating. He was obviously such an incredible basketball player and had such an impact on so many people’s lives off the court and had so much left to give and to possibly impact people’s lives.
"It’s heartbreaking and just devastating.”
Braun called Bryant "the fiercest competitor in any sport of all time."
"That's what he was known for," Braun said. "Whenever you watched him play, just the ferociousness, the competitive nature with which he went about competing night in and night out is something I admired, and I think every athlete would say the same thing.
"It was incredibly inspiring, and I think for all of us as athletes, we all aspire to have the impact off the court he’s been able to have, to see how many lives he’s positively impacted, to see some of the different business endeavors he’s taken on and the success he’s had with those things is inspiring in itself as well.”
Second baseman Keston Hiura was raised in Southern California, too, and recalled running into Bryant while a student at UC-Irvine.
"I was going to get some food, some guy was waiting to cross the street and I waved him forward," Hiura said. "Turns out it was Kobe. So I parked my car and ran in casually into Panera to see him. He was nice … that was my starstruck moment of my life.
“He’s always in the talks for arguably the best basketball player to play the game. His impact in L.A. is tremendous. He probably touched so many lives without even meeting people. It’s sad to see that happen and prayers go out to his family.”
The news broke just a few hours after Braun, 36, said he'd considered the possibility that this could be his final season both with the Brewers but also in baseball altogether. Bryant's sudden death — made all the more tragic by the death of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna — provided Braun, himself a father of two with a third on the way this spring, another reminder of how precious life is.
“Kobe felt invincible," Braun said. "If there’s anybody on the planet that felt like they would have been invincible, he’s on that short list of humans. It’s a constant reminder that you never know how much time you have left. Stay present, and tell the people you love that you love them. Hug them and hold them close and not to take a second for granted, because none of us know when our time will be up.”