When Kobe Bryant announced that he would be retiring at the end of the 2015-16 NBA season on Sunday afternoon, the atmosphere around the Los Angeles Lakers home date with the Indiana Pacers became about a lot more than a basketball game between a lottery bound team and an Eastern Conference playoffs contender. The mood turned more reflective, with players and coaches alike telling the assembled media what Kobe Bryant meant to them.
"For me it's sad," said Julius Randle (as captured by the Lakers' Twitter feed). "Growing up he was my hero. I tried doing everything like him. He's my idol." Randle was not the only young forward in the building who grew up idolizing Bryant. For Pacers superstar Paul George, who grew up in Antelope Valley, California, just an hour outside of Los Angeles, Bryant was a basketball inspiration. "Growing up, that was the standard. He was the best player and it wasn't close," George told Bob Garcia of Sports Out West.
George wasn't done heaping superlatives on Bryant:
Paul George on Kobe Bryant: "He's, in my eyes, still one of the greatest players that played the game."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 30, 2015
Paul George on Kobe Bryant: "Kobe was my Jordan. I remember just being at home watching the games (and) just idolizing him."— Bob Garcia IV (@bgarcia90) November 30, 2015
On a night when many were debating where Bryant would ultimately rank in NBA history, George was not the only one to compare him to Michael Jordan:
Where does Byron Scott think Kobe Bryant ranks w/ the best NBA guards of all time? "Right there with MJ."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 30, 2015
Where Bryant and Jordan rank is ultimately an argument for another day, but Bryant ultimately just appreciates the love shown by his fellow players:
Kobe: "Coolest thing is the messages I received from other players. That respect from your peers, nothing in the world that can top that."— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) November 30, 2015
Bryant's walk into the sunset has officially begun. 66 more games to go.