PHILADELPHIA — The scoreboard clock in a suburban gym was set at 33 seconds on Tuesday night, in honor of the jersey Kobe Bryant wore in high school, and ticked silently to zero before a hushed crowd.
His birthplace of Philadelphia appeared as stunned and grieving as his professional home base in Los Angeles. Digital billboards along Interstate 95 flashed tributes. Reports on Bryant’s life and the helicopter crash that killed him dominated the local news. Along the streets of the city and its close-knit suburbs, Bryant’s name came up frequently in hurt tones.
Gregg Downer, the coach at Lower Merion High School who had guided Bryant to a Pennsylvania state title in 1996, wore Bryant’s old warm-up jacket to an afternoon news conference Tuesday. Later, he took the bench during a road game, wearing a shirt that bore Bryant’s likeness, still anguished over the death on Sunday of his former star and Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
“My heart hurts so bad,” Downer said. “My insides hurt so bad. I realized I had lost my hero.”
Bryant’s relationship with his hometown was complicated. He was born in Philadelphia but was not exactly of Philadelphia.
He was from the suburbs, lived on the upscale Main Line, the son of a 76er named Joe “Jellybean” Bryant. Kobe was worldly in a town that was notably parochial. He grew up in Italy as his father completed his professional career, and became fluent in Italian and Spanish. And he had no patience for the “Rocky,” blue-collar, underdog mind-set of Philadelphia’s sports teams and their fans.
He professed to have grown up as a Lakers fan. Famously, during the 2001 N.B.A. finals against the Sixers, Bryant promised he would return and “cut their hearts out” after the Lakers lost Game 1. He did, winning his second of five titles.
Eventually, time seemed to polish the sharp edges of local sporting antipathy toward Bryant, and he is now acknowledged as one of the two greatest basketball players from Philadelphia, along with Wilt Chamberlain
To Lower Merion, Bryant remains what Downer called the heartbeat of the school. He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to his alma mater, and Lower Merion’s gym bears his name. Former high school teammates helped coach at Bryant’s summer basketball camps, where he would insist they teach 10-year-olds the intricacies of the Lakers’ triangle offense. He remained close to his former coach and to his English teacher, Jeanne Mastriano, whom he once called his muse.
A makeshift memorial of flowers, basketballs and Bryant jerseys quickly formed on Sunday outside the Lower Merion gym, where Bryant sometimes showed up at 5 in the morning in high school to practice shots before classes began. The most famous story about his fierce determination continued to be told and embellished: Bryant once chased a teammate out of the gym, furious that the teammate had taken an ill-advised shot instead of passing him the ball at the end of a practice drill.
The fleeing player, Robby Schwartz, “couldn’t believe he was actually running from a teammate, but he saw how serious Kobe was, so he took off,” Doug Young, an assistant coach at Lower Merion and a former teammate of Bryant’s, recalled Tuesday, laughing.In 1995-96, his senior season at Lower Merion, in Ardmore, Pa., Bryant averaged more than 30 points, led the Aces to a state championship, broke Chamberlain’s local prep scoring record and was named the national high school player of the year. He topped it off by taking the R&B singer Brandy Norwood to his prom.
“I never saw a human being seek excellence like him,” Downer said Tuesday.
It is hard to overstate how big an attraction Bryant was in high school. He signed autographs and posed for pictures after games. Extra seating was brought in for spectators at some gyms when Lower Merion played on the road.
Later, all those who rooted for Bryant in high school and cheered against him on the Lakers were confronted with a troubling moment in his life outside basketball. In 2003, Bryant faced a sexual assault charge in Colorado. The charges were dropped after his 19-year-old accuser declined to testify. Bryant issued an apology to the woman. A settlement was later made in a civil suit she brought against him.
“It was sad,” Frank Nunan, the athletic director at rival Upper Darby High School, where Tuesday’s 33-second moment of silence took place, said of the assault case.
Asked how he reconciled Bryant the basketball star with Bryant the accused, Nunan added, “For his wife to stay with him and for him to continue on with his family, focusing on their lives, coaching his daughter, said a lot to me.”
Mr. Young, the former teammate of Mr. Bryant’s, said he did not know enough details about the assault accusation to comment. But he added, “You could see how much he cared for his family.”
Whatever complex feelings remain about Bryant, his death here feels raw and personal, as if a relative or a friend has been lost. On Tuesday, Mark Kerr, 64, a longtime Lakers fan, drove an hour and a half from central New Jersey with his wife and nephew to visit the Bryant memorial at Lower Merion. He said upon hearing of Bryant’s death he had dropped to his knees. “I wanted to feel a connection to Kobe,” he said of his visit. “He seemed invincible. He was going to live forever.”
Mastriano, Bryant’s former English teacher, kept in touch with him over the years. She recalled in an interview how, several years after Bryant graduated from Lower Merion, she found a maternity package on her porch, containing a red wagon, baby-related gifts and a message: “Love, Kobe.”
When Bryant was nearing the end of his N.B.A. career, Mastriano got a message from a representative of his, asking her to meet in New York City. She drove up from Philadelphia and visited with her former student at a hotel coffee shop.
He was planning to retire soon, Bryant told her, but did not want to announce it publicly. He wasn’t sure he wanted a retirement tour, with its familiar rocking-chair gifts and standing ovations.
She suggested he consider otherwise, encouraging him to go public while setting his own terms. He did on Nov. 29, 2015, writing a poem in The Players’ Tribune called “Dear Basketball.” He wrote that the sport “gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream / And I’ll always love you for it.”
“But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer,” Bryant wrote. “This season is all I have left to give.”
Bryant’s public farewell, Mastriano said, “was important for him to give people a chance to celebrate him.” And, she added, “It was also important for people to have an opportunity to say goodbye.”
Jeré Longman reported from Philadelphia, and Sarah Mervosh from New York.