A year ago, the world lost an icon whose popularity transcended the basketball court when Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash.
His accolades made him an unquestioned Hall of Fame basketball player, but who was he behind the scenes? Who was Bryant off the court with teammates in the locker room, out to dinner, and with his family? How was Bryant perceived as a teammate? What are things about Bryant the average fan didn’t know?
To find out answers to those questions and more, HoopsHype spoke with four of Bryant’s former teammates (Robert Sacre, Josh Powell, Jodie Meeks, and Kent Bazemore), two of his former assistant coaches (Melvin Hunt and Darvin Ham), and Brian Shaw, who played alongside and coached Bryant during five total championships.
What’s your best story with Kobe off the court?
Sacre’s first story: “We’re going on a road trip, so they gave us our per diem. I think our per diem was like $1200 for a long road trip. I was like, ‘Yo, Kobe, let me get your per diem. You don’t need it.’ He goes, ‘What are you gonna do with it?’ I had my own little joke with him. We both laughed about it. He’s like, ‘You’re not getting it, though.’ I’m like, ‘Come on, man. Well, how much cash do you have on you right now?’ He whipped out $40,000 in cash and put it on the floor. I was like, ‘Damn! That’s what you’re rolling with?’ I’ve never seen that much cash like that. It was in his backpack.”
Sacre’s second story: “I always had a six-pack in my backpack. On the bus, he’d always ask me for a beer. I had to do Coors Light most times. If I could get the Bud heavy, I’d be on it. He’d be like, ‘Hey Sac, I know you got one.’ I’d throw him a beer once and a while.”
His foot was up in a cast, and he was on a scooter. It was funny to see him in a different light. At that point, I’d only seen him in basketball mode. With his family, he was like a big teddy bear
Hunt: “I have a picture, it’s me and Kobe, walking off the court. I’m in Dallas, and I’m palming the back of his head. We’re just giggling like two schoolgirls walking off the court. He hadn’t announced that he was going to retire, but he was basically telling me right there. His whole perspective was different. He was telling me then and then after the game when we met up again on the loading dock, and he is talking cryptically. My man is talking to me, and he used an analogy, something like, ‘If you’re a fat kid, how can a fat kid complain about being hungry?’ There was some other stuff wrapped around it, but he was basically alluding to the point of I’ve had a great career. I’ve had an incredible career. I’ve had a great time. I’ve done all the things I wanted to do. I’m good. Then, a couple of weeks later, is when he made the announcement publicly that he was retiring.”
Powell’s first story: “No matter how many stories are shared and information is swapped, it comes back to him being a competitor and being obsessed with the game he loves. I played checkers with him from time to time. We would compete on the planes or wherever. Those games would be so competitive that literally it could turn into 30 or 40 minutes just playing checkers. It’s not like we were playing chess, you know? He just hated losing that much. That’s just the type of guy he was.”
Powell’s second story: “He came to Riverdale. I had donated a technology center. In my school. I wrote a personal check for $20,000, and they built out a room. We had between 12 and 14 computers. It was set up to basically help the students and get on track notes, test prep, things like that, because at that time, the county had lost its accreditation. So, just trying to give them the resources that they need. He and Derek Fisher both came to my high school to help me present the checks as well as the room. People still talk about that moment to this day. The fact that he came out there to show love was amazing, especially good for the southside of Atlanta. For everybody who was in attendance that day, just a really amazing thing to be a part of, and I was beyond grateful for his support.”
Meeks’ first story: “I would always come back to the gym late at night and get some work in, and no one else would be in there at the time. I like to work at like 10:00 or 11:00 when nobody’s there. I was there for like an hour or two. I thought no one was there because all the lights were off in the weight room. I’m done and about to get dressed and go home, and Kobe walks in. He kind of scared me because my back was to the door. I’m like, ‘You were here?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, I was here the whole time in the weight room watching you. I really respect how you go about your craft.’ I’m like, this dude is maniacal about his teammates and who he’s playing with. I feel like when he knew that one of his teammates worked as hard or worked hard like him, he knew that he could trust you in times of need, and he can go to war with you.”
Meeks’ second story: “Right after he tore his Achilles, me and Dwight Howard went to his house. He was devastated, but we were trying to cheer him up. We went and spent a couple of hours with him and his family. His wife was there and his two daughters at the time. Gigi was young. We just spent some time hanging out. His foot was up in a cast, and he was on a scooter. It was funny to see him in a different light. At that point, I’d only seen him in basketball mode. With his family, he was like a big teddy bear.”
Meeks’ third story: “We were on the plane. I had just started to get into the rotation. I was asleep. This was one of those long plane rides after a game. He woke me up. It’s like 2:00 in the morning. We watched film for that whole plane ride. It was probably like a two and a half hour plane ride. I slept probably 30 minutes. He was like, ‘This is where I want you on the court.’ My spot in Mike D’Antoni’s offense was in the corner and I’d shake it up to the wing in transition or in halfcourt sets. That next week, and the rest of the season, I’d get three or four shots a game just off that film session.”
Bazemore: “I asked him about a couple of books he’d been reading because I also heard he was a philosopher, a really deep thinker. He gave me a book called Zen in the Art of Archery. He gave me that book. He said, ‘When you figure out the meaning, shoot me a text, and we can chat about it.’ I read through it and sent him a text. He said, ‘That’s not it. Think deeper.’ I had no idea how to even process what the book was telling me. Now, fast forward, six, seven, eight years, and I kind of grasp that a bit. He was just on such a different wavelength. He had his purpose. He had his ideals on the way the world worked and how he could make it better. You hear guys across the league how he was sharing his wisdom. Some people give you knowledge, but he was sharing wisdom. He had all the talks of all the greats, Bill Russell, MJ, Magic. He had some of the most intricate conversations with some of the best players of all time and meshed it into his game. I was just excited for once he retired and kind of see him starting to talk about these things and be out in public and show the world how great he was.”
Ham’s first story: “One thing that always stuck with me we were sitting in OKC one time. What did you learn about your time coming into the league? You and Shaq were a dynamic duo to the point where Shaq isn’t around, and now you’ve got to carry that load. He said, ‘The one thing I learned is I had to learn how to put my arms around my teammates and allow them to walk with me and not drag them behind me. Before I thought I had to go out there and set the tone through my work ethic and going hard at everybody on my team thinking that if I’m going hard at them. That’s going to make them work harder and step their game up and try to be on my level, but never communicated with them.’ People thought he was an oddball, a loner, a weirdo, whatever. He said, ‘But going through those lean years when I was the best player on a losing team taught me something.’ It taught him, and words out of his own mouth, how Shaq was a guy that was so f*cking dominant, but always took time to engage with his teammates in a positive and productive manner, even off the court.”
Ham’s second story: “I was having a beer with Craig Sager, and Kobe was coming back from having a workout with I think Tim Grover. He goes up, changes his clothes, comes back down, and we’re sitting there. Miami was playing somebody in the second round, and it’s the Dwyane Wade, LeBron, Chris Bosh team. We’re talking about the game, and he asked what I was drinking. I had a little Jack Daniels. He told the server, ‘Get my man some Jack Daniels, and I’m going to take some patron.’ Mind you, we’ve got an elimination game the next night. I’m like, ‘You drink? No way in hell.’ We both busted out laughing, and he said, ‘Hell yeah, if you deal with some of the sh*t that I have to deal with, yes indeed.’ I almost fell out of my chair.”
What’s your best story with Kobe on the court?
Sacre: “I can think of one just off his competitive drive as a competitor. They showed his points, and he was maybe a couple of points behind Michael Jordan at the time, or he might’ve been in third place. I like to poke the bear, I was like, ‘Damn, Kobe, Karl Malone’s got more than you.’ Kobe goes, ‘Well, he never won a championship, so what do those points even matter?’ I was like, ‘Alright. Come on, man. You can discredit him just because he didn’t win a championship, that it doesn’t even matter.’ He was a competitor, no matter what. No matter what statement or anything. He was always trying to argue with you. He’s got to win the argument. That was just how he was.”
Hunt: “The year that I took over as interim head coach with the Nuggets. He comes up to me, and he just jokingly says, ‘Oh, so now I gotta call you I gotta call you head coach.’ I said, ‘Well if the shoe fits,’ that type of thing. We just kind of laughed about it. I saw him not necessarily respect people who hadn’t earned it. He just wasn’t going to give you that respect. You had to earn it. I felt like for me, my 20-year career, it was a little bit of a badge of honor.”
Meeks: “We were in Brooklyn, and I was having a kind of off night. I missed like my first four or five shots. I came back to the bench. He’s like, ‘What’s going on with you? You alright? Did you get some sleep, or you had a late night last night? What’s going on?’ I was like, man, ‘I don’t know, I’m just off tonight.’ He looked at me, and I was young at the time, I think I was like 24 years old, so he was like, ‘What’s our position?’ I thought it was kind of a trick question at first. ‘Shooting guard.’ He’s like, ‘What’s our position? Shooting guard.’ He’s like, ‘Exactly. We shoot, and we guard. We don’t worry about misses. We don’t worry about anything else. So, if you’re 0-for-20, keep shooting.’ To have someone like that instill confidence in you to not worry about how many shots you missed definitely helped my confidence. I already had confidence, but it helped me through the rest of the season and through the rest of my career.”
We’re in the locker room after the game, all excited we beat Boston. He walks in, and he’s like, ‘Ya’ll motherf*ckers still suck.’
Bazemore: “I’ll never forget, I got traded from Golden State to LA, on a Thursday. I fly out Friday morning. I do my physical. Come back good and ready to go. We play Boston on ESPN Friday night. Kobe was in the back, and that was my kind of my first time seeing him. I didn’t really want to be embarrassed by him, so in my mind the whole game, I’m like, I’m going to play extremely hard and do my thing. We’re in the locker room after the game, all excited we beat Boston. He walks in, and he’s like, ‘Ya’ll motherf*ckers still suck.’
Shaw: “At the end of the third quarter, we were in our coach’s huddle out on the floor. The players were sitting on the bench resting. I think we had a 30-point lead. Phil Jackson sent me over to ask Kobe if he wanted to stay in for the first few minutes of the fourth and see if he can get 70. I went over and asked him, and he looked up at the scoreboard. He said, ‘Nah, I’ll just do it another time when we really need it.’ And so I got mad at him because I played with him. I’m like, ‘What are you talking about? You got a chance to get to score 70 points. How many people can say that they scored 70 in an NBA game?’ And he looked up at the scoreboard again. He was like, ‘We don’t need it right now. I’ll get it another time.’
It was probably three weeks later, four weeks later, we played the Toronto Raptors, and he had 81, and we needed all of those. It was a close game. That’s the first thing that came to my mind was he told me three weeks ago that he was going to do it when we really needed it. Seeing him in a game where he had an injured right shoulder and he pretty much played, I think he scored 37 or 40 points, pretty much playing most of the game, left-handed, not using his right hand at all because his shoulder was banged up pretty good. Just the incredible mindset that you have to have, knowing that you can’t use one side of your body basically, but you still want to be out there with your teammates.
Ham: “He was a finisher. He wasn’t a starter in terms of talking sh*t. Kobe wasn’t going to come out and just berate you and start talking sh*t to you like some guys who intimidate. If you talked to him, best believe he was going to make an example out of your ass.”
How would you describe Kobe as a teammate?
Sacre: “I could say that he was not hard to play with, but he demanded a lot from you. He wanted to get the best out of you. It didn’t matter how he got it out of you, but he wanted to get the best out of you. However you interpret that really is what he was like. He’s going to push those buttons to figure out what triggers you to get the best out of you. I always remember him saying, ‘We could be best friends on the court and be only winning 15 games a season and just be best friends and enjoy that, or we don’t have to like each other and win a championship, and 10 years down the road we can laugh and look at what we’ve done and accomplished. So, what do you want basically? You want to be friends and buddy, buddy, or you want to win championships?'”
Hunt: “Probably my favorite thing of all was watching him kind of evolve in front of us. When we first got to the Lakers, I’ll just say Kobe was not a great leader. He did not really know how to lead because he hadn’t really had to because he had so many great personalities and leaders around him. The leader of the Lakers at the time, people won’t say it, but it was Derek Fisher. He was kind of the guy that allowed Kobe to be Kobe. He was out front with a lot of things that needed to be said for the team.”
Powell: “You hear stories about No. 8 before 24 was way different. Regardless, even No. 8, I get it. It’s not like you change completely if that makes sense. He still is who he is to the core. But you can respect it. You understand why he’s like that, what he comes from, and why he’s so obsessive and so passionate about the game of basketball. That’s also what made him as great a player as he was.”
Meeks: “To me, he was a great leader. Some people didn’t like it because he might not speak to you if he didn’t like you, but the only way he didn’t like you was if you didn’t work hard. I respected that because I’m a hard worker. If you didn’t work hard, then he didn’t really want to have anything to do with you.”
What was your view of Kobe as a player?
Sacre: “I wouldn’t say he was an evil genius, but he was like a savant when it came to basketball. He was just different. I can’t put words to it, but he just saw the game differently. I remember watching him look at film one time, and he made a pass, and then he watched the next play, and he goes, ‘See, if I had just moved my body just a tad like this certain angle, I could have made that pass behind my head like this.’ You’re thinking behind your head? What do you mean? That’s the type of mindset he had. He could do anything.”
Hunt: “I watched him on a day to day basis. He was just chasing greatness every day. It sounds like a cliché, but it was true. This brother was trying to get every ounce of the goodness out of everything so that he can improve as a player and as a person. I also know that he was a different dude when he was with his kids, which I absolutely loved.”
Powell: “For me, I put Kobe over Mike because I felt like how the game came to Kobe and just how he would manipulate the game too. I mean, it was just crazy how easy it was for him. I’ve been on both sides of it. I was on that team in Dallas where he gave us 62 in three quarters, 65, or whatever it was. Then, he went on to stretch for 12 games scoring 50-plus (points). It was something stupid. And he got it done on the defensive end too. But I honestly feel like when it’s all said and done that LeBron James is going to have something to say about it as well. How many people has Kobe’s game or his teachings affected? Last I checked, Mike ain’t out here giving nobody no keys to the game. He ain’t really sharing that knowledge with everybody. Am I lying about that? What stories have we heard that Mike would say to a young fella, let me give you this? If anything, Mike’s going to bust your ass to let you know why he’s the greatest, but Kobe would give you the game and still bust your ass with it. He’ll give you the teaching pointers and still give you this work. It’s a different argument. That doesn’t take anything away from Mike. I’m not against anybody who feels Mike is the greatest. I get it. But we’ve got to change the argument to something else. It’s a done deal. Why is it a done deal? Just because Kobe patterned his game after him, you can still pattern your game after somebody and do it better. How many people have Mike made better?”
I put Kobe over Mike because I felt like how the game came to Kobe and just how he would manipulate the game too. I mean, it was just crazy how easy it was for him
Meeks: “It’s tough because I feel like he was the spitting image of Jordan. To me, Jordan is the greatest of all-time. He’s definitely in the Top 10 all-time. I always view rankings by position. It would be hard for me to put two shooting guards in the Top 5, but if somebody did, they wouldn’t be wrong.”
Bazemore: “I believe he is my No. 1. I’m only saying that because obviously, I’ve been an NBA nine years now, so just watching highlights, and just the magnitude Jordan had on the game. But I grew up on Kobe. I went through all the airballs. I saw the rise. I was there the entire time. He got drafted in ‘96. I was seven years old. Kobe having the mental fortitude to be at Denver going through all that crap and to still go out and perform.”
Shaw: “As a player, I played with Larry Bird, against Magic Johnson, against Jordan. I view Jordan as the best ever to play the game. I don’t think that anyone will ever overtake him in terms of that crown. If Jordan is the best player ever, and he’s the best player at that position at the two-guard position, I think that he’s number one, and I think that Kobe is number 1A behind Jordan. When you look at the tenacity that he played with when he first came into the league. He didn’t start. He didn’t play very much the first year or two. That fueled his fire for him to be able to accomplish what he was able to accomplish and play, as long as he was able to win championships that he was able to win with Shaq, without Shaq with a whole new cast of characters. What he brought to the USA Olympic team, when he participated with that group, and just overall that killer instinct. He’s in my Top 5 NBA players of all time I would say, and right below Jordan.”
Ham: “I’m 47 years old, and I grew up in Michigan. Magic to us was everything. We feel like he changed the game. Oscar Robertson was a big point guard, but the world had never seen a 6-foot-9 point guard like Magic. I don’t like to have that argument of different areas, different rules to the game, but, sh*t, he’s top-10 for sure. I mean, because when you start rattling off names, you got to mention Magic, right? Obviously, MJ. You’ve got to mention LeBron, Shaq, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem, Larry, Isiah Thomas, and Russell. Traditionally, when I first came into the league in 1996, there was an active roster of 12 players in the NBA. If I’m going to have the greatest of all time, a roster of 12 players, he’s definitely on that team. On that roster of 12 players, he’s definitely a starter.”
How would you describe Kobe as a person?
Sacre: “If you got him on a good day, you could talk to him about anything. He’d be willing to open up. On a bad day, I ain’t messing with him. I ain’t poking that bear. He just didn’t want to be messed with. We all have bad days. We’re all human. ‘How you doing, Kobe?’ ‘I’m pretty sick and tired of everybody asking me how I’m doing.’ Alright, it was going to be that type of day.”
Powell: “He don’t like none of that soft sh*t, there’s no other way to say it. That’s just the type of guy he was. He respected guys who weren’t afraid to back down. It’s not only from him but just the challenge. The challenge can be anything. It could be whatever’s going on in practice games, working out, or going in the weight room, getting some extra work, or getting extra shots up. He just appreciated guys who step up and who were willing to bust their ass, do the right things and go above and beyond. You got to be able to shoot it to him straight.”
Meeks: “Off the court as a person, I feel like he was misunderstood. He was kind of closed off, but it was his only time he had privacy. I understood it. Life in a fishbowl is not always fun. I feel like he was kind of closed off, but we would go to dinner from time to time and just have a regular conversation. He was a regular person. I think a lot of people misunderstood him as being this loner or whatever.”
Bazemore: “Like any other successful man. Very confident in who he is. He had this aura about him and this confidence about him when he walked into a room. He kind of demanded the attention, even if he wasn’t trying, and it was earned. He came in, he wasn’t the No. 1 pick. He got drafted and traded on draft night and carved his way. He had this enormous chip on his shoulder in everything he did. He let you know. Even something as simple as the Jalen Rose commercial. The dirty martini thing. How many olives? 81. Every time I see that commercial, I crack up because I felt like that’s how he was. You can’t sit at this table if you don’t have championships. I respect that. That’s how it should be. He didn’t really have any friends on the floor until the latter years of his career when he was on his way out. He’d laugh and giggle with guys. For the most part, when he was competitive, we could be friends later. That’s how I approach the game too.”
He don’t like none of that soft sh*t, there’s no other way to say it. That’s just the type of guy he was
Shaw: “I love the fact that he didn’t care about, for the most part, about what people said or thought about him. He brought that same tenacious attitude to everything that he did, whether it was playing checkers, knowing more rap lyrics than the next person, definitely anything on the basketball court.”
Ham: “He never ran from himself. He always kept it real about himself and his view of the world. People talk about the situation when he did the press conference with Vanessa. He never ran from himself. He never really gave a damn about what anybody said about him, be it the media, teammates, adversaries, people playing against him, the front office. He never ran from himself. He always knew who he was, and he always strove to grow.”
What’s something people may not know about Kobe?
Sacre: “He was a huge Gonzaga fan. I knew that. He told me that after my first game. ‘I f*ck with you Zags, man. You guys are alright.’ He knew how coach Few coached, and there were three of us that played with him. Adam Morrison played with him for two seasons, Ronny Turiaf played with him for four seasons, and myself.”
Shaw: “He was a staunch rap and hip hop fan. When I first joined the Lakers, when he was still young, he couldn’t do a lot of things that the rest of the guys on the team could do because of his age. He wasn’t 21. He couldn’t go out to a club or to a bar and have a drink after a game. When we would be on the plane playing cards, he would kind of sit in his own section by himself and didn’t really engage in any of the card games with us. You would initially think he’s kind of standoffish. But when you look back at it, it was like he couldn’t do a lot of things. He was still a teenager and a young man that wasn’t of age around a bunch of grown men. While he would be in his corner, on the plane, or the bus, he would always have his headphones on. He’s always listening to music, or he was watching film. But he had the ability to listen to a song and remember and recite, word for word, from beginning to end whatever song he was listening to. He listened to a lot of Jay Z and then later on J. Cole.”
Ham: “One night we were coming into Miami and there was a piano in the Four Seasons and he got on the piano and started playing some of the most beautiful music you ever hear in your life. Damn Kobe, not only didn’t you know he knew how to play the piano, but at that level. He’s just amazing.”
What did you take away from your time with Kobe?
Sacre: “If you believe you can do anything, you can, and you can achieve anything you want to accomplish. You just have to have a mindset that no one can stop you. I think that’s really what I took from him most is the mindset of don’t be a victim. Don’t feel sorry for yourself and just have that competitive hunger.”
Hunt: “When I look back on the tape, we all look back on the tape we understood that Kobe was really leading the way he knew how to lead. Every time he did something, I knew that there was a method to it, from anything like in practice, getting cussed out in front of everybody because you want to change the score on a practice while we’re practicing to do a situation and him jumping you. Then, later on, you realize it had nothing to do with you. It had everything to do with I’m trying to get Brian Cook tough. I’m trying to get Luke Walton to be more assertive. We can’t allow them to have any kind of edge, so they’ve got to fight.”
Powell: “The man, the husband, the father, the friend, is like how he showed up in those other aspects of his life just across the board. He’s not just going to give it his all in one area and not do it in all the others. So that’s also something that’s important too, greatness across the board. That’s one thing I appreciated about being in his presence.”
Meeks: “He definitely shared his wisdom with everyone whether you were the 15th man on the bench and you were just looking to get some playing time or if you were another superstar. I think that’s the difference between him and other players. I don’t know Jordan personally, but I know he did share his wisdom with Kobe. I’m not sure if he shared it with everyone, though. He could have, I just don’t know.”
Bazemore: “He taught me how to value the mind and really curate the mind-body relationship. I try to find out more about who I am, walk in my confidence and be the best version of myself. I think he had it down to a science, what made him tick, and all those kinds of things. I definitely think he showed me that the mind is important and to push yourself.”
Ham: “The thing I love about Kobe, you hear these conversations of who’s better Michael, LeBron, Magic, Bird and all of this sh*t, Kobe was a basketball student of the game. He had the rare ability to detach himself from something just to seek to be great at something else, and I think everyone could learn from that. He really wasn’t caught up in all of that. He was caught up in trying to be the best basketball player he could possibly be at the time he was doing the sport. Once he left the sport, he was trying to be the best creative artist he could be in terms of children’s books, documentaries, and financial management investment.”
What was your reaction when Kobe passed away?
Sacre: “I tell people all the time Adam Sandler died like 1,000 times with all these hoaxes, so I thought it was just one big hoax. Then, it started coming like my phone started blowing up like crazy. It was a lot. You kind of felt like you were walking around with a shadow all over you because people knew who I was; they knew I played with him. Everybody was kind of asking, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ It was a part of being Kobe’s teammate. Everybody knew. Everybody was concerned, and they all just checked in on me and stuff.”
Hunt: “We were getting ready to play. As soon as I heard, I was at the arena. My phone was blowing up. We just finished our coaches meeting, and my phone’s blowing up. I’m reading it, but I’m not believing it, as I’m kind of getting it from different places. When I knew it was Kobe in the helicopter, I knew what was going on because I knew about the helicopter. That was another way he saved time with his family. He got that helicopter so that he could have more time to work out and still spend time with his family. So, I immediately knew that that was very real. I was sitting there, and I’m a wreck. The breaking point for me was, I was sitting in our, in our coaches area, and Lloyd Pierce, he had been out on the floor taking questions and kind of talking to folks, and he came in and said Caron Butler’s doing our game today. He said he asked about you. I got myself collected. I thought I was good. I walk out on the court, and as I got three steps close to him, we made eye contact, we dap up, I hugged him, and we both broke down.”
Powell: “I don’t think I’ll ever believe it because it doesn’t feel real. Somebody like that, as big an icon as he was, he’s like a real superhero to many people for who he was and how he carried himself. It’s crazy because I still got the tickets. I got everything from me going to the funeral and the brochure that went out just with a picture of him and Gigi is something that I keep in the bathroom. Every so often I still look at it. And it still hits as if it just happened. I got a tattoo of him and Gigi on me like a month or two after that happened just to dedicate to him.”
“I think especially when you start watching all the videos and everything going up, people really started to see his heart and how much he did care and how much he did do for people. I think that, obviously, there was the perception of him early on, and obviously, everything that he went through during that one specific season. But you’ve got to give it up to a guy like that. He literally rebranded himself. You know what I mean? And he played so good to the point where people aren’t talking about those things anymore.”
You kind of felt like you were walking around with a shadow all over you because people knew who I was; they knew I played with him. Everybody was kind of asking, Hey, how are you doing?’
Bazemore: “We were at Roosevelt College. I’m one of the last guys on the bus. I got to my phone, sat down, looked at my phone, and it’s all over the place. I just started shaking. We got on a flight, I think, to Minnesota. I took a nap hoping, that when I woke up that it would be a dream. The whole day I was freaking crying. I was so shocked and hurt. It’s like you have all these regrets. I should’ve done this or that. It eats you up. Still to this day, I think about it. We played the Lakers, and during the whole national anthem, I’m just staring up there at his jersey, feeling all these emotions. My eyes are watering. There are so many things you want to say and do and ask him. You never really got closure on the situation. It’s still something I’m probably going to hold onto for a while because he meant so much to me, my game, and basketball. When I think about basketball, I think about Kobe. That’s how influential he was with me coming from a small town in Carolina. That’s all we had. We emulated people in the driveway. He’s like a part of me in some ways.”
Shaw: “I was at NBA TV was about 10 minutes away from coming on the set. I was with Stan Van Gundy and Matt Winer. We had had our makeup done. We’re getting ready to walk onto the set, and one of our statisticians came over and said I can’t believe this report. TMZ said Kobe was killed in a helicopter crash. It just kind of stunned everybody, and everybody started scrambling and grabbing their phones and making calls and trying to find out if it was true. What most people didn’t know, at the time, was that his daughter and the other folks were, were on that helicopter. I remember the producers at NBA TV asked me if I wanted to go on air and talk about it.”
Ham: “I’m sitting at dinner when my son sends me a text, ‘Did you hear about Kobe?’ I said, ‘What happened?’ I put my phone face down. They said he died. He sent me a TMZ link. I didn’t even open the link. I went outside and called my agent, Spencer Breecker. He’s been a Kobe fan since he came out of his mom’s womb. Spencer’s completely upset. As soon as he answers the phone, I can hear his voice trembling. Is it true? He said, ‘I’m so sorry.’ I immediately lost it. I had to walk around the block of the restaurant. I did a couple of laps trying to get myself together. That was a punch like somebody just punching you all over your body. It was like, ‘F*ck, man. Really?’”
What do you think Kobe could’ve done with the rest of his life if he was still with us?
Meeks: “I think he was on a great track of just continuing to preach equality with the women’s side of basketball. His daughter Gigi was going to be a great player. The storytelling he did. He won an Oscar. I think he’s just so talented in so many ways and so intelligent. I think he spoke four or five different languages. He was definitely maniacal about basketball. Whatever he was doing after basketball, he put that same energy into that. That’s hard for a lot of guys that get done playing because the energy that you put into basketball and all the thrill of playing in front of thousands of people is hard to match with other things. He definitely found that with what he was doing.”
Bazemore: “I feel like he put women’s basketball in such a great place. I think they were headed there anyway, with all the talent and whatnot, but I think him embracing Gigi and all those young basketball women prospects, rocking a hoodie and going to college games, I really think he put the game in such a great spot and growing the game in general. The whole details thing he was doing with ESPN breaking down film kind of looking at it through his lens. He was really on the brink of explaining the game on such a deep level.”
Ham: “He was a beautiful human being that was transitioning to being a blessing for the world. I’m just so sad and disappointed that his life got cut short. As the saying goes, you’ve got a born date and a death date, but what you do in between better make it mean something because life is nothing but a vapor. You’ve got to make your impact while you’re here. He made an impact, but I think the things he had planned were going to shape the world and change the mindset of the youth with his children book series, a lot of things he was doing on a financial level, things he was doing with women’s basketball.”
Shaw: “Seeing him from a single young man to a married man to a father. Then, being able to transition from playing, finding some passion in something else, once he was done playing, and putting that energy into his daughter, coaching her team, as well as the business that he was doing for his company, Kobe Inc. That included a lot of different things from video animation projects where he got awards, to writing books, to some of his speaker series going around to corporations and speaking about competition and the mindset that you have to have in any field and things of that nature. He was just one of the most well-rounded guys that probably was misunderstood for a lot of the time.”
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto