When Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving heard that Kobe Bryant had died in a tragic helicopter crash Sunday morning, he left Madison Square Garden and did not return. He was not seen on Monday but has since broken his silence. The Brookyln Nets player reflected on Bryant's impact on his life and career following the game against the Detroit Pistons.
As the final seconds ticked down, the crowd began to chant, "Ko-be Bry-ant." Irving raised both of his arms and egged the fans on, as if signaling for them to get louder.
"Out there on the court, I am not the only one that is hurting," Irving said after the game in his first public comments on Bryant's death, ESPN reports.
"I don't want to make this about me and just our relationship because we all shared something really, really strong with him," he said.
"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear," Irving said Wednesday. "I had that mentorship relationship with him, where I was able to ask him almost anything. You know no matter how nervous I was or how fearful I was, he was just easy to approach with those type of questions about what goes on in the day-in and day-out basis of chasing something that's bigger than yourself and when you're trying to leave a legacy or something of a mark on a game."
In the Nets' 121-115 win against the Piston Wednesday, which was the first game Irving had played in since Bryant's death on Sunday, Irving wrote a pair of his Kyrie 3 "Mamba Mentality" sneakers, the sides of which were scribbled with "1/26" (the day Bryant died) and "Whiplash" (a reference to the 2014 film about a young drummer who was pushed to his breaking point by a mentor).
"Our relationship was so much deeper than basketball," Irving said.
He cried during the Nets' pregame tribute that included a two-minute video and two empty seats that the Nets left empty in honor of Bryant and Gianna. The father and daughter had sat together in those very seats on Dec. 21 when the Nets played the Atlanta Hawks.
"For me, it's a lot of grieving going on," Irving said. "I'm just paying my respects. I know in the next coming days it will be some more news and things that are going to be done to commemorate the lives lost."
There were several NBA stars and professional athletes that looked up to Bryant, but the bond between Irving and the retired NBA star was quite strong. They were very close and Bryant served as a mentor to Irving, provided him with key tips to help him find success on the court.
To provide further context for this relationship between the two players, The Athletic's senior NBA writer Joe Vardon appeared on the "Glue Guys Podcast." Vardon met Irving during his time with the Cleveland Cavaliers and built up a working relationship. Through the three years speaking on a frequent basis, Vardon better understood Irving and how he viewed Bryant as a family member.
"That was the kind of relationship that he felt that he had with Kobe," Vardon said. "You're talking about a player that Kyrie idolized, a person that he idolized growing up. But they became that mentor/mentee relationship, to the point where Kyrie would call or seek out Kobe for advice and would get it and would implement it into his own life."
This was actually the same moment that Bryant referenced during an appearance on SiriusXM in 2019. He explained at the time that he had given the young Nets star some advice prior to a critical game, and Irving had used it to help the Cavaliers become league champions.
"I remember sitting on the couch at home after Cleveland came back from that 3-1 deficit and beat Golden State," Bryant said. "We're watching the game, me and Gianna are just there, hanging out. And my phone rings. And it's a FaceTime call. ... It's Kyrie. I pick it up. And Kyrie's in the locker room celebrating on FaceTime. Like, 'Dude! It worked! Your advice worked!'"0comments
Vardon explained that Bryant was a giant in Irving's life, and he was unable to go to work mere hours after learning of his death. This Facetime call was only one example of their bond, and Irving's comments just further proved the connection.
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