Jerry West may be the man whose silhouette adorns the National Basketball Association logo, but he’s also the man responsible for turning Kobe Bryant into a Los Angeles Laker.
The eight-time NBA champion spoke to CNBC’s The News with Shepard Smith about his relationship with the former Lakers superstar and his thoughts on his late boyfriend, who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“I will remember [Bryant] as someone I loved like a brother. The playful moments with him, some of the fun things and the exchanges we had. Watching him start what he became, “West told CNBC.
Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven other people died in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California on January 26, 2020.
West, a former player and 14-time NBA All-Star, coached the Lakers and eventually moved to the team’s front office. He stood behind the Lakers dynasty in the 1980s and is the proud owner of eight championship rings in his life. He is also the man credited with bringing Bryant to the Lakers after organizing a draft day deal with the Charlotte Hornets.
West recognized Bryant’s talent for basketball early on and did not shy away from the 17-year-old, even though he only played in high school.
Jerry West and Kobe Bryant salute before the game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers on December 18, 2017 at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California.
Andrew D. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images
“We just fell in love with him. From the time we coached him in Los Angeles, and especially the second time we coached him … from then on, it’s been like, I love the way you get we this guy? “
The two developed a bond over the years. West said his son would drive around Bryant and his wife would cook him Italian food for dinner.
“He was one of the greatest players we have ever seen, but he was also one of the brightest players we have ever seen,” said West.
While Bryant achieved so much on the court, West also took pride in his extrajudicial contributions, especially when it came to helping women’s basketball.
Bryant helped give voice to the Women’s National Basketball Association and its players, and often attended games with his daughter.
“He was a bright light” for women basketball players, West said. “Whatever he did turned to gold and I think he was as a person.”
On Saturday, Bryant’s idol Michael Jordan will induct him into the Hall of Fame. From a young age, Bryant looked up to Jordan and even tried to model his game after him.
“This is going to be a historic night to honor a legendary player who is no longer with us and it just doesn’t seem right to be honest,” said West. “To have his idol there to introduce him … I think we all feel a little bit robbed.”