Las Vegas native Stephen Zimmerman on tragedy: 'It hurts'

LAS VEGAS –- It was around 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 when Stephen Zimmerman received a concerned text from his sister.

Zimmerman was in Los Angeles as he continues to try to impress the Lakers during training camp. But his sister was in Las Vegas, where Zimmerman played his high school and college basketball.

She texted to let him know that something terrible had happened in his hometown.

“She said there were gunshots and stuff downtown,” Zimmerman said. “She was making sure me and my girlfriend were all right. Obviously, we’re out [in Los Angeles], so we were good."

Zimmerman said he didn't realize just how bad the tragedy was until he woke up the next morning, when he learned that a shooter named Stephen Paddock fired hundreds of bullets from a 32nd-floor suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino down into a crowd of 22,000 people attending a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 and injuring more than 500.

Zimmerman would later discover that some people he knew were at the Harvest 91 music festival. Fortunately, none of them were hurt. But Zimmerman felt Las Vegas’ pain. He moved to Las Vegas when he was 6. He played at Bishop Gorman High School before spending a season at UNLV.

“There were Instagram stories and stuff of [friends] running and hiding,” Zimmerman said of the shooting. “It’s intimidating. It’s scary to think that someone you know [experienced] something like that. It hurts.”

The Lakers -- with the Kings, T-Mobile Arena, AEG and MGM Resorts International -- will donate the proceeds from Sunday’s preseason game against the Kings to benefit victims, families and first responders affected by the shooting.

Zimmerman said he actively looked into ways he could help any cause toward the recovery, including starting a blood drive, until he saw that many residents in Las Vegas already had come out to donate blood.

“Honestly, it was tough,” Zimmerman said. “The first thing I did was text my friends [in Vegas]. I wanted to see if they were OK. One of my friends ... his parents and his aunts and uncles were there. The [musical act] they came to watch was done 15 minutes before everything started, so they were already on the road. Thank God.”

“I sat there with my girlfriend. ... We were talking about it for a second. ... It hurts. It feels way more personal. It’s one of those things that’s like, you never know how it feels until it happens to you, and it feels like it happened to me. It’s kind of hard to describe.”

“Some of us are from Las Vegas. Some of us love going to Las Vegas. That’s something that’s going to affect Las Vegas forever. We just want to keep it in our minds and let people know what’s going on to help make a difference.”

Lakers head coach Luke Walton said his “god-sister” was injured in the shooting but is recovering at home now.

“I call her my god-sister,” Walton said. “She has bullet fragments in her leg. Obviously in the South Bay there’s the schoolteacher that got shot, someone who worked in the police force over there. There’s all sorts of stories you hear, that you either know them or you know people who do know them. So it touched everybody."

“It’s definitely different than any other time I’ve been here,” Walton added of being in Las Vegas for Sunday’s preseason game. “The people I’ve talked to have all taken pride, kind of. The local people that live out here and the way that they’ve responded to this and the way they’ve come together as a community.

"It’s definitely a little strange [walking around] after what happened. I think it kind of shows why our country is so amazing and why our country needs a lot of help at the same time. You see both sides of it. I think the people out here coming together and standing up and making it work has been pretty impressive being only a week out from that event.”

Walton had his players air any feelings they had after the shooting in a team meeting last Monday.

“You know, kind of acknowledge how lucky we are,” Walton said. “There’s real-life stuff happening all the time and how lucky we are to be doing what we do and it’s our job, our responsibility to get out there and help people and to enjoy every day that we have, because life is precious and life can be short, as we saw that day.”

“At first I didn’t know what we were going to do, if we were going to come play at all,” Walton added. “Is it not right to do? I think it’s important that when a tragedy like this happens, you don’t live in fear. You’ve got to keep life going, I think a lot of people here love basketball. ... They love the Lakers here like it’s their home team. And for them to come in here and just get away for a couple hours is going to be great for them.”