Every game is a reminder of the impact Bryant had on the NBA — and on DeRozan. But returning to Los Angeles around the anniversary of Bryant’s death kept the star’s memory front of mind for DeRozan this week.
Friday was the four-year anniversary of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., a loss that shook the league in 2020. After a loss to the Lakers on Thursday, DeRozan reminisced on what Bryant meant to him as a player and person.
“From the moment he came in the league to his last game, everything about him inspired me to want to be a basketball player,” DeRozan said. “That was my favorite player growing up, that was a mentor of mine, that was somebody I looked up to, I could go to for advice. For me, Kobe, he was everything to me.”
Growing up in Los Angeles during the 1990s, it was impossible to escape the influence of the Lakers — and the influence of Bryant. DeRozan idolized Bryant as a young player at Compton High School. He attended Bryant’s camps as a teenager and received a gift of the star’s shoes as a high school senior.
When DeRozan entered the league in 2009 at 20, his relationship with Bryant, then 31, shifted from idol to mentor. Bryant instilled his signature work ethic in DeRozan during offseason training sessions, providing the blueprint for the boot-camp workouts that DeRozan now terrorizes young Bulls players with in Los Angeles each summer. They spent seven years playing against each other as competitors before Bryant retired in 2016.
Even now, DeRozan only wears Bryant’s line of shoes during games — a small reminder of his mentor’s impact on his career.
Players, coaches and fans throughout the NBA and WNBA shared memories of Bryant, his daughter Gigi and the other victims of the helicopter crash Friday.