<
>

Emotional Kobe Bryant rendered helpless after tribute from Jerry West

play
Jerry West's tribute to Kobe Bryant (2:16)

The Warriors pay tribute to Kobe Bryant with a message of admiration from NBA legend Jerry West. (2:16)

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant's eyes welled with tears as the video tribute began to roll. He fought his emotions, but he didn't win, couldn't win. There have been many powerful moments that have tugged at him throughout his farewell tour, but Thursday offered something none of his other stops could match. It left him helpless.

Before Bryant's final game in Oakland, his final appearance at Oracle Arena, the Los Angeles Lakers star sat on his team's bench during player introductions and watched in spotlighted darkness as Jerry West, who helped bring Bryant to the Lakers two decades ago, delivered a taped farewell speech.

"Kobe, 20 years ago is a long time ago," West began. "I had an opportunity to meet a 17-year-old kid who had the dream to be one of the greatest players of all time. I saw something really special in you and it didn't have to do so much with your enormous skill at 17 years of age. You could almost feel this incredible determination and desire to compete and excel.

"Twenty years later, I look back. I was right. The Lakers were right and I see this incredible basketball player with a resume that's almost second to none. It's a sad night but a very special night to have a chance to honor someone who has earned the respect of not only Lakers fans but fans throughout the world and particularly in all the NBA arenas. You've been an unbelievably special player."

And then, the crowd began to chant "Ko-be! Ko-be!"

"Five NBA championships. Scoring championships. All-Star games," West continued. "Even though people will look at this and say what an amazing player you are, I'm not sure that they understand the enormous desire and this incredible fuel that drove you to be the person that you became.

"There are millions of kids throughout the world that you have inspired to be another Kobe Bryant, but tonight is our chance to say goodbye to this incredible player who has changed the landscape of the NBA. From all of us at the Golden State warriors organization and for all the fans in the Bay Area, I want to wish you the very best going forward."

With that, Bryant was introduced, and he rose from the bench, high-fived his teammates and began waving to the crowd, tears in his eyes, threatening to spill out -- a scene that hasn't unfolded after any other tribute video so far this season.

"That was a tough one for me to get through," Bryant said following a 116-98 loss. "That got me a little bit."

Why?

"That's what started it all," said Bryant, who finished with 8 points on 4-for-15 shooting in 27 minutes. "He's the man that believed in me from the beginning. The conversation that I had with him sitting in the Forum locker room and just being in awe of sitting in Magic [Johnson]'s locker and sitting next to Jerry West talking about basketball. That's before anybody knew anything. That was special."

A 17-year-old Bryant awed West and the Lakers during a draft workout at the Forum, and West was hell-bent on acquiring the high school player from suburban Philadelphia.

Finally, West worked out a deal with the Charlotte Hornets, who drafted Bryant 13th overall, to bring Bryant to the Lakers, beginning a remarkable 20-season run in purple and gold.

Going back to the beginning, though, Bryant wanted to be great, sure, but he also badly wanted to prove to West that he was special.

"Absolutely. Growing up watching him, the thing that you want to do is you want to carry on that tradition," Bryant said. "You want to try to prove to him and to the other greats -- you want to gain their respect. To be able to compete at that level, to be able to put the work in to try to gain their respect meant everything."

West has referred to himself as a father figure to Bryant -- and Bryant agreed.

"We've had plenty of conversations," Bryant said. "I remember having dinner at his house. Just talking for hours after the game in the locker room, seeing him before practices, after practices, being out on the Forum court and him showing me certain moves and footwork and angles and things of that sort. Talking through some of his greatest memories as a player but also some of the toughest times for him, losing in the Finals and how that made him feel and that sort of thing. We've had a lot of deep conversations over the years."

West also called Bryant "Showboat" at times when Bryant was more concerned with showing off than playing team basketball.

"Jerry, when I think about it, that's probably where I get a lot of my smartass-ness from," Bryant said. "He shoots straight from the hip. He's going to tell you exactly what he thinks. He used to rib me all the time. He'd say, 'If I played against you, I'd do this to you. I'd do that to you. I'd beat you up, you little scrawny kid.' He used to rib me all the time about that and 'Showboat' was one of the things he used to get me pretty good with."

But West also put Bryant in rare company as one of the greatest Lakers of all time -- and one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen.

"It means the world to me. As a player, he's the logo of the league," Bryant said. "What he's done of the league and then also the teams that he's built -- the team that changed the face of basketball. For him to put me in that company, he's the man that drafted me and you know he's going to give you his honest response no matter what, it means I must have done something right."