DeRozan & Powell Reflect On Bryant's Influence
Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com
The mention of Kobe Bryant’s name can often bring back unpleasant memories for fans of opposing teams. The Los Angeles Lakers player has broken the hearts of many fanbases over his 20-year career, and there often isn’t one stinging memory where Bryant is concerned, but many. While Toronto fans have had their share of those moments, Bryant represents something more to Raptors’ players DeMar DeRozan and Norman Powell.
Shortly after Bryant’s Sunday night announcement that he would be retiring at the end of this season, DeRozan and Powell, like so many around the league, reflected on all that Bryant had represented to them.
“He meant everything,” DeRozan said. “I try to emulate, learn so much from him, ever since I was a kid. Watching every single game growing up in Los Angeles, having a chance to get with him and learn from him and from conversations even when I was in high school [to] playing against him, competing against him and being in big games with him.”
It’s impossible to ignore the influence Bryant has had on DeRozan’s game. You can see the hours and years DeRozan spent in the gym, mimicking Bryant’s moves. DeRozan first got to know Bryant at a skills camp when he was 16 years old. The two remained in contact, crossing paths during summer workouts, and developing a mutual respect for the other’s work ethic. When DeRozan suffered a torn ligament in his groin last season, Bryant was on the phone, reaching out with advice about how to handle the time away from the game.
“He’s just one of them guys who wants every single thing out of the game of basketball. He sacrificed so much to do that. I think a lot of times people don’t appreciate that side of him. But, you know, my experience with him, he’s a hell of a guy. I think people won’t realize that until he’s away from the game.”
With Bryant hanging up his shoes this summer, DeRozan joked that he would be trying to get him to pass all of his moves along. As the longest-tenured Raptor, DeRozan is in his seventh season in the league and has developed a new appreciation for a player able to remain in the NBA for so many years. Powell, at the very beginning of his career, already feels the same.
“I’m only getting a taste of it now,” Powell said. “I’ve been at it about six months. To do it for 20 seasons, the way he did it, fighting through injuries, as many games as he’s played, achilles, knees, everything like that, you really see how tough you have to be. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and just how invested you are in the game. That’s been Kobe his whole career, his whole life with basketball. Giving it his all.”
Powell wears No. 24 because of Bryant.
“I chose this number since I couldn’t have No. 4,” Powell said. “That had always been my number, but I had to give that to Luis Scola. I’m always a big 24 guy because of Kobe. Growing up I used to wear 24 in AAU, saying I was the next Kobe, so I thought it would be fitting to wear this in my first year in the NBA [with No. 4 gone].
He isn’t the only Raptors player to pay homage to the five-time NBA Champion every time he slips on his jersey. In a 2009 interview with a rookie DeRozan, he revealed that he chose No. 10 because that had been Bryant’s number in the 2008 Olympics.
From DeRozan singling out Bryant’s defensive focus in the 2008 Olympics, to Powell shrugging off media criticisms of Bryant’s final season while pointing instead to all that he’s accomplished, it is the competitiveness that set Bryant apart is also what’s made him such an inspiration for so many professional basketball players of this generation.
“He has that killer instinct and that grit that you don’t see too often,” DeRozan said. “He demands that presence every time you step out there on the court, and it’s hard to find many guys like that that have that dominant presence. You just see it in his eyes. With that, you gotta give a guy credit ‘cause that just don’t happen overnight. It comes with work ethic and somebody who’s really passionate and wanting everything out of the game of basketball.”
For DeRozan and Powell and countless others who were influenced and impacted by Bryant’s game, his legacy and impact will live on after this season, and his career, winds to a close. Lessons learned from afar, watching through the television screen, then re-watching game film, will remain.
“His mental [toughness] and drive to be the best,” Powell said. “That’s my favourite Kobe moment. Every time he stepped on the court he gave it his all.”