The bond between the Los Angeles Lakers legend and future NBA champion began during practices for the 2012 Olympics and has only grown from there.
Bryant was truly a mentor to Irving with the latter even Facetiming the former following his championship-clinching three-pointer in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. Irving also reached out to Bryant while dealing with trade rumors with the Cleveland Cavaliers and even recently was working out with him at the Mamba Sports Academy.
With such a close relationship, it’s no surprise that Bryant’s tragic death hit Irving extremely hard. Following his first game back on the court, Irving spoke about what Bryant meant to him, via Alex Schiffer of The Athletic:
“I had that type of mentorship relationship with him where I was able to ask him almost anything no matter how nervous I was or how fearful I was,” Irving said. “He left a lot of teachings, a lot of breadcrumbs I call them, and I just followed every single one. I saw what he was creating and I knew that I wanted that same structure. He had his own company, he had his own belief system, he had his own principles that he lived by. He didn’t give a f*** what anyone said.”
Irving would continue on, vowing to carry the torch that Kobe Bryant left:
“He left so many great things here for us to follow,” Irving said. “I’m going to continue to carry the torch.”
Bryant meant so much to so many people which is why his sudden death hit the entire world so hard. The level of respect and reverence he had around the world was nearly unmatched and so many players have vowed to continue on his legacy the best way they know how.
Irving has always strived to channel his ‘Mamba Mentality’ and was always one of the players Bryant pointed to when discussing the current players he saw some of himself in. Irving was so distraught by Bryant’s passing that he sat out the Brooklyn Nets’ game against the New York Knicks.
The number of tributes being paid to Bryant around the world is truly astounding, but the most important thing to many is to carry on his legacy the way he would want them to. LeBron James has spoken to this point and Irving plans on doing the same.