Hours after the tragic news broke that Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash, “Extra’s” Billy Bush sat down with Lakers legend Jerry West, who was the Lakers executive who traded for him on draft night in 1996.
West, who welcomed Kobe into his family, became emotional while revealing how he heard the sad news. He said, “I guess it was about 10:30 when I get a call from someone that said, ‘Did you hear that Kobe Bryant was involved in the helicopter crash?’ I said, ‘No.’ And then obviously the news gets out and you go from hoping and praying that he's fine to all of a sudden the reality sets in he is no longer here.”
At the time of his death, Kobe was on his way to the Mamba Academy with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who was competing in a game.
Bryant was a teenage phenom when he met West, who commented, “I'm just sitting here with my wife and kinda reflect back on my first involvement with him when he was 17 years old and I'm watching him try to grow to be what he became… watching this iconic basketball player who captured the city.”
West continued, “Watching him become a father of four daughters... watching how I played with him, his love for them all of those things start to sort of bring back memories of my early days with him... His legacy will live forever, but that's the tragedy of it for me. It’s one of the worst days of my life.”
West was instrumental in bringing Kobe to the Lakers by trading Vlade Divac. Of their time together, West said, “Going to practice, watching him grow, watching him dying to get an opportunity to play. And when he was just dying to play, he probably wasn't ready to play because of lack of experience. It wasn't for lack of ability and people always give way too much credit for us selecting him."
Jerry was a guiding light for Kobe, even when he wanted a trade from the Lakers in 2007. The 81-year-old shared, “He was gonna leave the Lakers, and I was working in Memphis. I had two conversations with him. I said, ‘Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.’… He wanted to go to the Clippers and, ironically, I'm involved with the Clippers today and that was two different conversations I have with him that he just wanted to leave the Lakers… I told him it'd be the worst decision you ever made in his life.”
Kobe would remain with the Lakers and win two more championships, in 2009 and 2010.
Less than 10 years after his fifth championship and four years after he left the NBA, the world is mourning the loss of Kobe, who died at the age of 41. West got choked up, saying, “I don't know what my next few days are going to be like. I don't… For two hours I was, I don't know where I was for two hours 'cause you hate to think of a grown man crying, but a lot of tears today. Sometimes you think you're stronger than that, but you're not, when it comes to people you really love and care about. I think about his family. God bless them.”