The news of Kobe Bryant’s death sent shock waves through all of the NBA’s 400-plus players, including many who idolized him, but for several reasons, it was particularly personal in New Orleans. The Pelicans – partly by coincidence, partly due to a blockbuster trade last summer – have more connections to the legendary guard than many of the 29 teams Bryant faced during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. For instance, three members of the Pelicans’ 15-player roster played their entire NBA career for the Lakers prior to this season, a group consisting of forward Brandon Ingram, guard Lonzo Ball and guard/forward Josh Hart. In addition, the team’s starting backcourt of Ball and Jrue Holiday are both natives of Southern California and played college basketball at UCLA, meaning they grew up watching Bryant during the peak of his greatness and share a unique local perspective of his impact. Bryant died in a helicopter accident Sunday in California, along with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna.
On his game sneakers Sunday, Ball wrote “RIP Kobe” on his left and “RIP Mamba” on the right one (pictured above), while Hart wrote “Legends are Forever” on one shoe. After the game, Ingram was asked if he there was one moment that stood out to him most about Bryant as a player, to which Ingram responded, “I guess what (players) always talk about, the 81-point game (Bryant had vs. Toronto). I saw a lot of his highlights and his determination and everything he does. He was a player who never quits and is going to battle to the end. That’s what (stood out) to me.”
Holiday was born in 1990, giving him fond memories as a Lakers fan of watching Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal lead the franchise to three straight championships in the early 2000s. Holiday was later a student and standout guard at UCLA in ’09 when Bryant teamed up with Pau Gasol to spearhead more rings for the Lakers, winning back-to-back titles.
Now 29, Holiday said he was walking from his car into the Smoothie King Center prior to Sunday’s game vs. Boston when he learned of Bryant’s death, making him think back to the impact the Hall of Famer made on Holiday as a youngster.
“For me being from L.A., growing up watching him, (I think about) what he did for the culture of basketball for so many years,” Holiday said. “Not only that, but for the world. It’s a sad day. I guess in my heart (I was thinking), Kobe would want us to beat the Celtics, so that was a good win. But (I extend) so much prayer to his family.”