BOSTON (CBS) — News of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death shook the basketball world on Sunday. Players young and old had a difficult time grasping with the loss of a legend.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among the nine people killed in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California on Sunday, sending shock waves through the NBA community. It made for a difficult day for anyone who had to take the court on Sunday, as Bryant touched everyone in the NBA. Whether they had the opportunity to play against Bryant, or they mimicked his patented moves from their driveways as they dreamed of one day becoming the next Kobe, the Lakers legend had a lasting impact on anyone who picks up a basketball. That includes players up and down the roster on the Boston Celtics.
While current Celtics players idolizing a Laker usually wouldn’t sit well in Boston, Bryant was different. He may have donned the uniform of Boston’s most fierce rival for his entire career, but Celtics fans respected Bryant for the killer mentality he brought to the floor. Simply put, it wasn’t a great feeling whenever Bryant had the ball in his hand against the Celtics — or any team for that matter.
Many of today’s young players in the NBA grew up worshiping Bryant, including Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. He trained with Bryant ahead of the 2018 season season and viewed the legend as a mentor, and posted a heartfelt tribute on his Instagram page shortly after news broke on Sunday.
“Heart broken. My Hero. My Idol,” Tatum’s post read. “The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love with this game. Growing up wanting to be just like you, to you becoming a mentor, beyond thankful for everything you’ve done for me.”
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Heart broken. My Hero. My Idol. The reason I started to play this game, the reason I fell in love with this game. Growing up wanting to be just like you, to you becoming a mentor, beyond thankful for everything you’ve done for me. “I didn’t have a plan B I put all my eggs in one basket and I knew I was going to make it happen” hearing you say that stuck with me everyday of my life. You inspired me and I am forever grateful more than you know! Love you Bean 🙏🏽❤️! Sad, sad, sad day RIP Kobe and Gianna! Praying for the family!
Jaylen Brown said that his favorite player growing up was Tracy McGrady, but when it came time for him to see his first NBA game in person, he wanted to go see Bryant. Now that he’s a rising star in the NBA, Brown has even adopted Bryant’s free throw routine.
Brown had a tough time putting his feelings into words following Boston’s loss in New Orleans on Sunday night, a game he said was difficult to play. He said he’d never forget where he was when he learned of the tragedy, and was most disappointed that he never got a chance to shake Bryant’s hand and thank him for everything he’s done for him and the game of basketball.
“He inspired so much and it’s so tough that I never got to shake his hand. That’s what kills me the most,” Brown said after Boston’s loss Sunday night. “I was looking forward to that day. I never got to meet Kobe Bryant or play against him. But he was extremely inspiring and I’m honored to just play, to celebrate his name.”
Brown said that Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” will live on through many generations of NBA players and fans.
“His mentality, his thirst to win, all of that stuff you saw and felt when he was out there, how he carried himself like a champion in everything he did. That mindset is still going to remain forever; that Mamba Mentality is going to be around forever,” said Brown. “Rest in peace to him and his family.”
Boston’s veteran group, who had the opportunity to play against Bryant many times over the years, also reflected on the loss of a legend Sunday. Marcus Smart had a few head-to-head matchups with Bryant, and said no one could guard him.
C’s forward Gordon Hayward trained and worked out with Bryant in Newport, and said he still has the messages and emails the two exchanged.
“Growing up watching him, a lot of us in the NBA now grew up idolizing and watching him,” said Hayward.
“It’s tough. Kobe is a guy who’s impacted so many lives, so many basketball players around the world,” said point guard Kemba Walker. “To hear the news about him and his daughter, it was tough for everyone.”
Walker said he first met Bryant when he was still in high school. Bryan’t relentless work ethic and commitment to basketball is what stuck with Walker the most from that meeting.
“We were actually a Kobe team. Just to see him, his presence, had an impact on me,” he recalled. “You always knew how hard he worked, and that was the biggest thing for me, his work ethic and his mentality about the game. That’s what has inspired me the most.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens got choked up several times when reflecting on Bryant’s legacy ahead of Sunday’s game. He praised Bryant for focusing on his family and coaching his daughter following his retirement, and recalled his first memory of Bryant, which came long before he was hitting shots for the Lakers. Stevens recalls Bryant’s father, then an assistant at LaSalle, recruiting one of his friends, and the story his friend shared after that workout.
“Kobe was just a kid playing open gym with him, and my best friend came back and just told me, ‘I just played with the best 16-year-old I ever saw,'” Stevens told The Boston Globe. “He was right.”
The Celtics and Pelicans honored Bryant during Sunday night’s game by each taking 24-second violations after tip-off.