Anybody Else Catch Feelz?

Everybody around the NBA seems to have their own link to Kobe Bryant-a story or feeling that either directly or tangentially connects them to him. This has always been a matter of fact. Kobe was never just a player. He was a religion and a myth, an idol and an archnemesis, a mentor and a hindrance, a reality and an idea, all at the same time. His legacy, both on and off the court, is such that it can be whatever you want it to be. And yet, following the death of Kobe, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash, it’s clear acceptance of his impact never doubled as a measure for comprehension. The outpouring of responses to this tragedy, for both the Bryants and everyone else affected, is unlike anything the league has ever experienced. Sudden loss has a way of amplifying clarity, but Kobe’s notoriety implied a certain awareness.

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www.justjared.comWe knew how much he influenced everyone who came into contact with him, watched him play or followed him off the court. It turns out we didn’t. Not really. The enormity of his memory casts new light on the extent of his imprint. Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers told reporters. Little about Kobe’s legacy is genuinely consensus. That he was charged with raping a 19-year-old woman in 2003-the charge was later dropped after the woman elected not to testify, and a civil lawsuit between the two parties was settled out of court-is part of his story. His impact on the game, though, is less complicated. He had one, in some way, in some form, on everyone. This year’s All-Stars, young and old, all felt his loss because they all felt his presence. Everybody around the NBA seems to have a link to Kobe. A groin injury is keeping Lillard out of Sunday’s superstar showcase-don’t worry, Dame D.O.L.L.A. Saturday night-but that doesn’t make him less of an All-Star.

And like most of his Chicago-bound peers, he has at least one Kobe Bryant experience that stands out. In this case, it was a “welcome to the NBA” moment. But I guess that’s just a college thing where eventually shots just stop falling, because he kept making them. Fadeaway over two people, fadeaway from three, pull-up jumper with two hands in his face-he’s just making it. And it was just one of those times where I was like, ‘When a guy in the league gets hot, I guess this is just how it is. I think our last game in L.A. I had that because it was a pretty close game and I scored a few buckets and the crowd was into it. Kobe was killin’, and he went to the free-throw line, and they needed those free throws. I told him, I said, ‘Kobe, I just need you to miss one,’ and he just kind of ignored me and just stayed focused, and he went and made both free throws. This all seems on-brand for pre-twilight Kobe.

His maniacal work ethic and killer instincts never wavered, but he became more of a teddy-bear figure to the kids by the end of his career. Lillard might’ve received a slightly less snarky welcome if he entered the league two or three seasons later. Booker’s Kobe experience is more tightly knit than others. He grew up idolizing the five-time champion, and the two developed a relationship. Kobe was on his way out by the time Booker entered the league, but that didn’t prevent him from reciprocating the respect. After his final game in Phoenix, he gave the then-19-year-old a signed pair of his shoes with the message “Be Legendary” also scrawled across. To say Booker was elated would be an understatement. Anybody else catch feelz? Because I caught feelz. Bam Adebayo notched a triple-double in his first performance following Kobe Bryant’s death, and he dedicated that effort to his role model: Bean himself.

I was just so happy to be around these guys, all these future Hall of Famers.

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Shortly thereafter, Adebayo went into greater detail about how much Kobe meant to him. This is both gutting and remarkable-an authentic reminder of the impact Kobe had over those who never even got the chance to meet him. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s work ethic has been compared ad nauseam to Kobe Bryant’s own delirious drive, but their ties run deeper than this shared commitment to grinding. Antetokounmpo said, per Forbes’ Andrew Wagner. Everybody does have a Kobe story, right? The first time when I played against him, in Chicago, probably rookie year, second year. Just knowing that I’m on the court with one of the greatest people to ever play the game, it hit me a different way. That’s everything to me: knowing that I’m in the same league with somebody that has done this at an extremely high level for so long. 60 or something like that. I finally got my chance to go in the game. I was just so happy to be around these guys, all these future Hall of Famers. I forgot to put my jersey on before the game.