SAN ANTONIO — Longtime usher Rita Pasierb dabbed her eyes with a tissue Sunday as she stood near one of the baskets at the AT&T Center.
Shaken by reports of NBA icon Kobe Bryant's death, Pasierb wept as she recalled Bryant's interaction with fans before the many games he played against the Spurs during his stellar 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
"He did so many things for people," Pasierb said. "When we had kids coming in for Make a Wish (Foundation), people with cancer that were here to get autographs, he always made sure to stop.
"We had a kid who had respiratory problems. He was in a wheelchair and couldn't move. Kobe would always come and say hi to him. It's so sad. What a good man. Not only was he a good basketball player, but he was a good man."
The mood inside the AT&T Center was somber and surreal before the Spurs' game against the Toronto Raptors. Fans stayed glued to their telephones, trying to keep up with the latest developments of the tragedy.
Reporters normally have access to players before games, but the Spurs closed their locker room shortly after reports of Bryant's death were confirmed.
The Raptors and Spurs had a poignant tribute to Bryant after the opening tipoff, dribbling away their first possessions until the 24-second shot clock expired.
Fans chanted "Kobe, Kobe, Kobe" as Toronto guard Fred VanVleet and Spurs guard Dejounte Murray each let 24 seconds run off the clock as they stood and dribbled. Bryant wore jersey No. 8 and No. 24, both of which have been retired by the Lakers, during his career.
The Spurs had a moment of silence for Bryant minutes before Sunday's game tipped off. A black-and-white photo of Bryant was shown on the Jumbotron during the moment of silence.
Bryant, 41, played the Spurs for the final time at the AT&T Center on Feb. 6, 2016. He retired after the 2015-16 season.
Bryant was alternately lighthearted and poignant on that Saturday night, when he reflected on his fierce rivalry with the Spurs.
Bryant paid the Silver and Black the ultimate compliment when he was asked how they elevated his game.
"Their discipline," he said. "When I first came into the league, I played off a lot of emotion, I played with a lot of rage. But the year we got swept (by the Spurs) in '99, it really showed me another level of the game in terms of the coldness in which they played and the discipline that they played with. That's when I realized, I've got to get my game to that level and I've got to get there now. It helped me find that next level of discipline."
Bryant was asked if the Lakers' rivalry with the Spurs during his career was bigger than the rivalry with the Boston Celtics.
"It's more personal because it's the rivalry that I played through," Bryant said, referring to the Spurs. "The Celtics rivalry was something that I grew up watching. I played against them a couple times in the Finals, but San Antonio was year in and year out. That rivalry was what fueled the majority of my career."
The Lakers won four of seven playoff series against the Spurs during Bryan's career, and won five NBA championships during Bryant's career. San Antonio swept the Lakers in the 1999 Western Conference semifinals en route to their first league title and also swept them in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, when Bryant was sidelined. The Silver and Black's beat L.A. in the 2003 conference semifinals.
The Lakers ousted the Spurs from the playoffs in 2001 (conference finals), 2002 (conference semifinals), 2004 (conference semifinals) and 2008 (conference finals).
"It was fun," Bryant said. "We knew what they could do. We know how they would play, we knew their momentum, we knew how they like to execute. But there were just some nights where we could just never get in front of them. With their ball movement, we were always kind of chasing the game."