BUCKTOWN — Packed with bright neon signs of all shapes and sizes, Neon Shop Fishtail lights up Western Avenue — and has for years.
But this week the neon sign shop at 2247 N. Western Ave. has gone dark and only one sign is commanding all of the attention. The sign simply reads: Kobe.
Every night this week owner Tom Brickler is shutting off all the neon signs in the shop except a Kobe sign he made as a tribute to the basketball star.
“This is a guy that had a lot of character. … it’s just a tragedy,” Brickler said.
Kobe Bryant, an NBA MVP, died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, California, along with eight other people, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, a promising basketball player. He was 41.
The victims were headed to a basketball tournament at the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks when their helicopter crashed into a hillside.
Brickler said he took the news especially hard because he’s accompanied his sons on many trips to hockey tournaments over the years.
“They thought they wouldn’t miss it for anything and just never considered that anything bad could happen,” Brickler said, adding, “It was all about being at that tournament for them.”
Unable to shake the news, Brickler asked his employees to drop everything Monday morning and help make a neon sign in honor of Bryant.
Brickler then came up with a plan so it would stand out.
“Rather than just it in the window with all of the rest of the neon — I just felt like I didn’t want that competing with anything — I said to myself, ‘You know, in honor of Kobe Bryant, I’m gonna turn off every sign in the store,’ something I’ve never done in over 30 years,” he said.
Brickler is originally from upstate New York but has lived in Chicago since the early 1980s. He said Bryant made a strong impression on him even though he lives in Chicago, where Michael Jordan is king.
“This is a Jordan town, but if you didn’t like Kobe, you didn’t like him because he was so good. You respected him,” he said.
“Everybody’s got a feeling [about what] happened and for the most part everybody felt pretty similar — that there was a huge sense of loss,” Brickler said.
Brickler is planning to keep the tribute going through the end of the week.
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