‘For this generation, that was Kobe Bryant’: Sampson, players reflect after NBA legend’s death
As news of Kobe Bryant’s death at 41 following a helicopter crash near Los Angeles sent shockwaves around the world Sunday afternoon, Kelvin Sampson and the Cougars were on the court for a 68-49 win over the South Florida Bulls in Houston.
After the win, Houston’s 16th overall and fourth-straight in the American Athletic Conference, Sampson and his players took time to remember Bryant, an NBA legend whose loss has devastated many in the basketball world.
“An icon to me is someone who influences a generation in their given sport or profession,” a somber Sampson said. “When I was growing up, the icons in basketball were Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Jerry West. They were bigger than life. For this generation, it was Kobe Bryant.”
Sampson knows his players, part of the generation that saw the five-time NBA champion become a “bigger than life” figure, looked up to Bryant as an all-time NBA great.
“It’s the impact he had on young people,” Sampson said, “people in this generation, who have no idea how good Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was or Wilt Chamberlain or Oscar Robertson, so for them it was either Michael (Jordan) or Kobe.”
Junior forward Fabian White Jr. remembered his younger years watching the Los Angeles Lakers legend play and emulating him in the simplest of ways.
“There’s not really any words to explain it,” White said of Bryant’s death, adding he recalls “growing up in elementary school, throwing paper in the trashcan, yelling ‘Kobe!'” as many who grew up watching him did.
For freshman guard Caleb Mills, the news was a reminder of how short life can be, no matter who you are.
“It just shows how anything can happen,” Mills said. “Take it day by day and be grateful for what you have.”
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the Cougars’ win over the Bulls, Sampson called to mind his first interaction with Bryant during the coach’s time as a San Antonio Spurs advisor in 2008.
“Unsolicited,” Sampson said, Bryant approached him in the back tunnels of AT&T Center in San Antonio and told him, “Coach, welcome to the league. I’ve always enjoyed watching your teams play.”
“It was awfully nice, wasn’t it?” Sampson added. “Didn’t have to do it.”