Walker, Tatum Recall Memories of Kobe at All-Star Media Day
CHICAGO – The recent death of Kobe Bryant is being felt in a significant way at NBA All-Star in Chicago.
One day after Bryant was announced as a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, Boston’s two All-Star representatives, spent a significant portion of their media availability discussing the impact Bryant made on their lives.
While Tatum’s relationship with Bryant was more public in recent years, it was Walker who knew Bryant much longer. Walker turned the clock back to his high school days to discuss Bryant’s influence on him.
“I was very blessed to meet Kobe at a very young age,” Walker said during All-Star Media Day. “My high school team was a Kobe team. So yeah, he inspired me and many other kids from my community, my high school.”
He continued, “The thing that always stood out to me was his work ethic. It was impeccable. It was second to none. And I think that helped me as a kid, just wanting to try my best to work as hard as him and it definitely paid off.”
Tatum, who was visibly shaken in the days following Bryant’s tragic death, mentioned a similar takeaway from the time he spent around the five-time champion.
Tatum said of Bryant, “The first thing that comes to mind is just, ‘How much does it mean to you to be great? How hard are you willing to work? How much are you willing to sacrifice to be as great as you want to be?’”
Boston’s two stars also spoke about memories and on-court tendencies that they took away from Bryant. Walker was asked what moment he remembers most about facing off against Bryant, and he replied with the following story.
“There was one time we actually met at the captain’s circle (before a game), and I was playing well at the time, and he told me, he just told me, ‘Keep going,’” Walker recalled. “I thought that was pretty special for me.”
Meanwhile, Tatum pointed toward the elements of his game that he pulled from Bryant’s.
“There were a lot of things that he did (that I try to do),” Tatum said. “Footwork-wise – footwork would probably be the thing that I most tried to emulate and pay attention to.”
Neither Walker nor Tatum seemed to have any trouble controlling their emotions while speaking about Bryant. Such was not the case in the days after Bryant’s death, and it may not be the case Sunday night, when the league honors Bryant, his daughter Gigi, and the others who lost their lives in the tragic helicopter accident.
Each team will wear jerseys that will honor Kobe’s and Gigi’s lives by numbers, and the rest of those who were lost in the accident will be honored with a patch. Former commissioner David Stern, who also died in January, will be honored with a band on each jersey. Separately, the NBA also announced Saturday night that the All-Star MVP award has now been named the Kobe Bryant MVP Award.
Every member of Team LeBron will wear jersey No. 2, which was Gigi’s number. Every member of Team Giannis will wear jersey No. 24, which was Kobe’s number for the final 10 seasons of his career.
Those jerseys will say a lot to those who see them, and they will mean a lot to those who wear them. Walker said it will be the one piece of memorabilia that he will take away from this weekend and treasure forever.
“I think our jerseys are very special this year, being that both teams are honoring Kobe and Gigi,” he said. “I’m definitely going to cherish that jersey for a very long time.”
As he and every other player should.
Bryant’s death stunned the NBA community and led to many tears and heartbreak. Similar feelings are likely to be felt Sunday night, during what will likely be the most emotional All-Star game in NBA history.