‘He said he always wanted me to guard him’: Wichitans who shared hardwood with Kobe Bryant reflect on his life

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – He was an NBA star, family man and icon.

Kobe Bean Bryant, affectionately known as the Black Mamba during his days on the hardwood was one of nine people who died in a helicopter crash Sunday morning. He was 41 years old.

Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other passengers were headed to a travel basketball game when the helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California.

His death sent shock waves through the entire sports world and right here in Wichita.

“No words for it,” said Korleone Young, who was drafted by the Detroit Pistons in 1998.

The news hit hard for Maurice Evans. Evans played for Wichita Collegiate and Wichita State, before embarking on an NBA career.

“Just devastated, speechless to be honest with you,” said Evans.

Even those who had to play against the Lakers star guard, like former Wichita State Shockers great Antoine Carr.

‘The Big Dawg’ as he is known by many played in the NBA from 1984 to 2000, squaring off against Bryant several times as a member of the Utah Jazz, Houston Rockets and Vancouver Grizzlies.

“I’m still as you can tell, I’m a little stunned still,” said Carr.

When it comes to Young, he says he first met Bryant at an NBA Association basketball camp at Princeton University. Young was in the eight grade at the time, two years behind Bryant.

“Meeting him in the eighth grade, and then two years later he’s in the draft and I’m in the tenth grade, it’s makes it believable,” said Young.

Evans has a different perspective. He would suit up alongside Bryant on the Los Angeles Lakers from 2006 to 2007.

“It was an honor to be able to witness the type of greatness he possessed,” said Evans.

He even had the challenge of guarding the Lakers legend in practice, although not by choice.

“A compliment to me was that he said he always wanted me to guard him in practice, he wanted me to guard him because I was really athletic, I played really great defense,” said Evans.

While the 20-year NBA veteran and 18-time All-Star’s talent on the court wasn’t hard to see, what he did off it, outside of the purple and gold uniform had an even greater impact.

“He has an exceptional heart, a lot of the little things people never get to see, like one Christmas I happen to be around him and he bought a bunch of gifts and just took them out to different people,” said Carr.

It’s all a part of a larger than life legacy he now leaves behind.

“I think he left a legacy that I’m not just a basketball player, I’m much more,” said Carr.

“I’m just going to miss just having someone that talented in the world, that inspirational on and off the court,” said Evans.

“It hurts to lose a brother like that, my heart goes out to his family,” said Young.

Bryant racked up several accolades during his 20-year career, all with the Los Angeles Lakers.

He is fourth on the all-time scoring list with 33,643 points. He was passed on the list by LeBron James Saturday night.

Bryant won five NBA championships and the 2008 Most Valuable Player award. He was also selected All-NBA 15 times during his career.

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