Russell Westbrook Says Kobe Bryant's Memory Will Be With Him Every Time He Wears Lakers Jersey
NBA star Russell Westbrook is a Southern California native and often dreamed of playing for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers. That dream came true last week, and the 32-year-old reflected back on his relationship with one prominent Laker that came before him — the late Kobe Bryant.
On Tuesday, Westbrook spoke to reporters for the first time since being traded to Los Angeles from the Washington Wizards in late July. During the introductory press conference, Westbrook held his Lakers jersey for the first time and beamed a proud smile in front of his family members.
"It's incredible and surreal," Westbrook said of joining the team, according to USA Today. "It still hasn't hit me yet."
But the blissful moment was also one of remembrance, as Westbrook recalled his many conversations with Bryant — who died in a helicopter crash in January 2020 — about one day donning the purple and gold.
"He hasn't left my head," Westbrook said, as noted by NBC Sports. "Things that we've talked about, me and him, potential to be a Laker, and what that entails. It's just crazy to think about."
"That'll be with me every time I put that Laker jersey on," he added.
After the accident, which also claimed the lives of Bryant's daughter Gianna and seven other victims, Westbrook penned a loving note to Instagram that revealed how much the five-time NBA champion meant to him and his career.
"I've been stuck and not really knowing how to put all that I've been feeling into words over the past several days," he wrote in the Jan. 31, 2020 post. "I am devastated about the passing of Kobe & Gigi, on every level. I met Kobe when I was 16 at UCLA playing against him in a pick up game. He played like it was the NBA finals."
"From that point on, I decided that I wanted to emulate his Mamba mentality. At the time, there was no name for it, but I recognized in him what I always felt in myself," Westbrook continued. "He became a friend, a brother, a mentor, a teacher, he defended me, he believed in me, and he taught me how to weather the storm. ... I love you Kobe."
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Westbrook — who has not yet won an NBA championship — now joins LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who helped the Lakers win the 2020 title.
It's safe to say Bryant would have given his seal of approval to Westbrook's addition to the team.
"Westbrook plays mean," Bryant once said when asked if he saw his competitive traits in any other NBA players. "He plays mean like I did, with an aggression."