Los Angeles Lakers legend and Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter accident more than a year ago, but on Monday the NBA community decided to celebrate his life on what would have been his 43rd birthday.
One of the best players of all time, Bryant won five championships, one MVP and made 18 All-Star Games during his 20-year career. His accomplishments and work ethic made him a favorite for not only fans but also for young players who wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“It started almost like a joke at first,” Antetokounmpo said of seeking a challenge from Bryant. “He was in I think a Nike ad and he was sending challenges to players… and I was like ‘let me just shoot my shot’… And he was like ‘MVP.’ But at first, I was like joking, I didn’t think he was going to respond to me. But when he did, he made me believe. I’m like, ‘Kobe Bryant thinks I can do this? I can play at a high level and lead my team and win MVP.’ I had to do it.”
“I had to work hard,” he continued. “And not necessarily not to let him down. I had to work hard because people believed that I could do it, and that’s the thing. I’m a people pleaser. I don’t like letting people down. When I re-signed with Milwaukee, that’s the main reason I re-signed, because I didn’t want to let the people down and think that I don’t work extremely hard for them, which I do. But to be able to accomplish those things in this period of time is crazy. It’s unreal. I can’t believe it.”
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That admiration was again evident on Monday, as players across the league paid tribute to one of the game’s icons.
In May, Bryant was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame along with contemporaries such as Kevin Garnett, Tim Duncan and Tamika Catchings. Bryant was presented by his idol, Michael Jordan, and his wife, Vanessa, delivered a speech in his place.