It’s been a little over 24 hours since it was first reported that Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had died at the age of 41 in a helicopter crash and the reactions, reflections, and tributes from the greats of the sporting world and beyond continue to flow.
Jerry West, Phil Jackson, Jack Nicholson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, Lamar Odom, Mark Cuban, Tiger Woods, Nick Kyrgios, Trae Young, Sergio Ramos, numerous artists at the Grammys, and many more have weighed in with heavy hearts, condolences, and stories of inspiration.
Also among the athletes paying tribute to late Kobe Bryant are four men who are sporting legends in their own right: Conor McGregor, Derek Jeter, Dirk Nowitzki, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
McGregor was at the Staples Center Sunday night for the Grammys, where thousands of fans (and one current Laker) were on hand to mourn the Lakers great.
“The Notorious One” was asked for his reaction to the devastating news and responded, “It’s very, very sad news. It’s iconic that I’m here and that he used to play in this arena as well. It’s just very sad news. He lost his daughter as well. It’s to kind of get up for this event. I’m very happy to be here but sad at the same time, so I don’t know. It’s just a very sad time.”
McGregor continued, “For me, the first time I ever came to America Kobe was one of the big stars, one of the men that jumped out… we don’t really understand basketball back home too much, but Kobe, he style transcends sport… a great man, I would have loved to have met him… it’s a very sad day.”
Nowitzki, who along with Kobe Bryant is one of just two players to play with the same NBA team for 20 years or more, and was once recruited by Kobe to come play for the Lakers, expressed his deepest sympathies and respect for the man he did battle with for 18 seasons and in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Another rare athlete who can relate to playing for one team and one team only throughout a historic career, Derek Jeter, penned a poignant tribute to Kobe for The Players’ Tribune.
“All I ever needed to know about Kobe Bryant was this: that throughout our friendship, the most meaningful conversations we had — they were always about family,” Jeter began his missive. “Put aside one of the all-time great basketball careers for a second. Put aside his famous work ethic, the Mamba mentality, that incredible will to win. I’ll let everyone else tackle that. But when I think of Kobe, I really just end up thinking about those special few personal conversations that we were lucky enough to share together, each time one of us had a new baby daughter. I end up thinking about how, here was this guy who was beyond gifted as an athlete, who was obsessed with being a champion, who was known as an absolute assassin with a ball in his hands. And in the moments I got to spend with him? He didn’t really talk about any of that. He cared much more about being a husband to Vanessa and a dad to his girls. He loved his family — he was his family. That’s what was important.”
Jeter later added, “I’ve seen him win gold medals and championship rings. But I’ve still never seen him look as happy, in those big moments on the court, as he looked the other day off of it: with an arm around Gigi, sitting courtside, and just….. talking.”
Another professional athlete with historic moments both good and bad linked to his name, including the experience of having to deal with, much like we all are now with Kobe Bryant, a shocking and unexpected death (his father in the Daytona 500), Dale Earnhardt, Jr., wrote, “What keeps coming to my mind is that I hope that anyone we’ve lost, the family/children left behind are surrounded with love, supported, and empowered to be great individuals as they find their way to carry on with their own lives. Strength and peace to the Bryant family.”