Remembering Kobe: Colangelo, Hurley and more share Mamba memories
Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday shocked the sporting world and beyond.
Even for those who didn’t have deeply intimate relationships with Bryant, the former Los Angeles Lakers guard and future Hall of Famer, his sharp competitiveness stood out to anyone who crossed paths with him.
Here in Arizona, there are a number of former NBA players, media members and NBA figures who have anecdotes that match up with Bryant’s legacy.
Former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, former NBA player Bobby Hurley, ESPN NBA play-by-play voice Dave Pasch and more joined 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station and KTAR News 92.3 FM on Monday to remember Bryant, who died with eight others, including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in a Sunday helicopter crash. He was 41 years old.
Anecdotes are edited for clarity and brevity.
Bobby Hurley, Arizona State head coach and former NBA player
“One of my all-time favorites. My son’s all-time favorite player and a number of our players on Arizona State men’s basketball grew up watching Kobe and idolizing him. If it teaches us anything, you have to appreciate life and appreciate every moment that you get.
“I always remember the one moment that I had with him … I didn’t have a great friendship and didn’t know Kobe at a real personal level. At the end of one of our games, it was his rookie year and my last year in the NBA. I was driving by Nick Van Exel right in front of the Laker bench and I had, like, a right-to-left front change. It was a pretty good move and I think I got fouled. As I was walking toward their bench, Kobe had said, ‘Don’t try that Duke (expletive) here.'”
Jerry Colangelo, USA Basketball director and former Suns owner
“We were drafting 14th in that upcoming draft (1996). We had Kobe come in for a workout and it was one of the great workouts of any player we ever had in any year. We felt we had a great shot to get him at No. 14, predicated on our knowledge of what people were thinking of doing ahead of us. Unfortunately, the Lakers — and I give credit to (executive) Jerry West for making the deal — he traded his center, Vlade Divac, to Charlotte for their first-round pick. So he jumped ahead of us and that’s how he became a Laker. He came that close to becoming a Sun. No doubt (Phoenix would have drafted him).
“We were again fortunate and blessed to have someone like Steve Nash available at (15).”
ESPN NBA analyst Dave Pasch
“I’ll never forget it. It was 2006 … the Lakers were playing Seattle at Staples Center and I was broadcasting the game for ESPN and I remember John Black, the PR director, bringing me into the Lakers locker room. This has never happened since, by the way, with anybody. So he brings me over to the locker room and brings me over to the locker and Kobe introduces himself and wishes me well, welcomes me to the NBA. I just wasn’t expecting that. I covered him, I interviewed him a few times and knew him as a basketball player. I didn’t know him off the floor. But that was something that stuck with me because of his professionalism and just his understanding of, hey, this is a young guy who is getting a shot to broadcast NBA and kind of welcomed me to part of that NBA family.
“He was at a game recently I did when the Lakers were playing the Mavericks and Luka Doncic is inbounding the ball and … he turns around because somebody was speaking his native language, Slovenian. He turns around and it’s Kobe. I just thought it was hilarious how Kobe related to everybody. He had a passion for life. The fact that he won an Oscar only a couple of years after retiring, the guy was just remarkable in his talent level and obviously his commitment to being a great father. I think that’s why … people are so stirred on this is because his love for his kids and the time he put in being a dad. He passed away by being a father and taking his daughter to basketball practice and he coached basketball.
“I remember, there was a game — I think it was 2009 or 2010 in Dallas — and the night before the Lakers had won a game on a buzzer-beater that Kobe hit. And we were, I think, set to interview him and he was walking by the room, going to the locker room, he just pops his head in, he says, ‘You knew that blank was in.’ He just had a confidence level in himself that I think we all wished we had.”
Al McCoy, voice of the Suns
“He gained so much respect and I think particularly in his later years, and we saw it, we’ll never forget, one of his last meetings, when he went to Devin Booker and tried to say things to Book to make him a better player. I’ll never forget, he said to Devin, ‘Listen you have size on these others guards. Post up down low. Take ’em down there and beat ’em.’ And here he was trying to improve Devin Booker’s game.”
Mark Asher, former Valley sports talk host
“I was probably 22, 23 years old, just trying to make it in this crazy business. I would go to these games and it was Suns-Lakers, it was I want to say 1998, and Kobe comes off the bench that night and drops like 25 points, kills the Suns. And I want to say ESPN Radio, who I was working for on the side as a stringer, they said ‘hey, can you get Kobe?’ I said ‘I don’t know man, that’s a tough ask.’ They go, ‘it’s $350,’ so I said yeah I’ll get Kobe.
“So I go down there, I want for the media scrum to kinda get out of the way and they do and I go in to introduce myself. I said I worked for ESPN which was a lie … so he stops me in my tracks and says ‘are you getting paid extra to do this?’ There was two ways I could go, I could lie or I could just be honest. I was like ‘yeah I am’ and he goes ‘what am I worth?’ I said ‘well ESPN will give me $350 tonight if I put you on.’
“He kinda made a face like that’s pretty good, and so he goes yeah I’m in. About two seconds later, Shaquille O’Neal walks up, kinda pushes me out of the way, he was not nice, and says ‘what do you want?’ I kinda told him Kobe agreed to do the interview and Shaq says the interview’s not happening. He looks at me kinda mad and says it’s not happening.
“I see $350 go out the window, so I plead, I forget what I said, but at the end of the day I finally get Shaq to agree to it because I told him I would walk you two to the bus. The second you get to the bus you can throw my phone down, you can step on it, I don’t really care and the interview’s over. … So of course I call ESPN … and they’re like we’re in a break. I’m like no, no, no, you have to put him on right now. So we wait, wait wait. Kobe’s on the phone for about 30 seconds, we’re about 25 yards from the bus, we are right there. And in a move that I can only say to this day was Kobe Bryant doing me a solid, he spun around, put the finger to the ear and did the ‘guys I’m having a hard time hearing you’ and turned around and walked back towards the practice court. Shaq kept walking straight, I of course was in the middle and kinda stopped. Kobe walks back to the locker room, six minutes, Shaq never says a word, and six minutes later Kobe comes back with my phone, interview was all done, hands me the phone and said something like enjoy the $350 or don’t spend it all in one place.”
Amin Elhassan, ESPN analyst and former Suns front office member
“Relentless. This is a guy who obviously was incredibly talented but he worked so hard. He worked like someone who wasn’t talented. It was fun to — the kind of peak behind the curtain I got was 2007, it was the All-Star game. Our coaching staff was coaching the West All-Stars. And they were just talking about Kobe’s approach and how he was in the practices, in the locker room. Again, it’s the All-star game. It’s fun and games and going out there to mess around.
“Then that following summer, (then-Suns coach) Mike D’Antoni and a couple other guys were part of USA Basketball and Kobe was there … the stories of camp of his work ethic, how they’d have to kick him out of the gym. Finally that same summer, they played against Brazil. I’ll never forget, L.B. (Leandro Barbosa) came and called. He said, ‘Hey man, that’s not the same Kobe we played during the year.’ Kobe had turned it up. People forget that like, ’05, ’06, ’07, the Lakers weren’t very good. Kobe would pick and choose kind of the places he would put his imprint on the game. With Team USA, he turned himself into a defensive guy, that was his thing. He didn’t care about shooting. He just didn’t want to lock up the best player. For poor L.B., Leandro Barbosa, he was the guy who had to get guarded by Kobe.
“I remember sitting April, May, June, going through draft workout footage and watching film and watching tape, and (Suns owner) Robert Sarver would walk in. We’d say, ‘Hey, we really like this guy. I think he’d be a nice complement to our team,’ and Robert would say, ‘Is he going to guard Kobe?’ That was a thing. That was a real thing we were searching for.”
Dan Majerle, Grand Canyon head coach and former NBA player
“The thing that set Kobe apart and why he was like a Bird and a Jordan and a Magic was his mentality and his competitiveness — the first guy in the gym, the last guy to leave practice. Practices were as competitive as games. He’d score on you and then he would take great pride in stopping you as a defensive player. Just his mentality and the way he worked and pushed himself to be the best. There aren’t many people on this earth who are like that.”