Saquon Barkley has been vocal about what type of personal impact Kobe Bryant had, and he expanded his thoughts in an interview that aired Sunday on ESPN.
Ahead of Super Bowl LIV during ESPN's pregame programming, Barkley was among four past and present NFL players -- including all-time great wide receiver Jerry Rice (1985-04), Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (2012-present), Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz (2013-present) -- to reflect on the late NBA legend.
Bryant, 41, died last Sunday in a southern California helicopter crash that killed his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. Beyond the NBA, the 20-year Los Angeles Lakers star from 1996-16 inspired the generation that Barkley came up in.
"That first time you tell yourself that you want to be great, that first person that comes to your mind is Kobe Bryant," Barkley said.
Born Feb. 9, 1997, the 22-year-old Barkley grew up watching Bryant's run as an 18-time All-Star selection and five-time NBA champion.
As he made his way through Whitehall High School in Pennsylvania and starred at Penn State from 2015-17, Barkley did so while drawing motivation from Bryant's "Mamba Mentality."
"I wanted to be a Kobe Bryant (of the) NFL," said Barkley, whom the Giants selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft.
"Despite him being gone, he hasn't left us."- NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) February 2, 2020
Some of the NFL's best remember the life of Kobe Bryant. pic.twitter.com/kt62goPwTG
Two years into his NFL career, Barkley is on the fast track to stardom, totaling 23 touchdowns and 3,469 scrimmage yards on 621 touches -- 5.6 yards per play -- over 29 games (all starts) from 2018-19. With Bryant in mind, Barkley pushes forward.
"If I could meet Kobe Bryant in person, first thing I would say is, 'Thank you,'" Barkley said. "The thing that ignited the love for Kobe is just his passion.
"You could see the passion on his face. You could see when he would bite his jersey. You could see when he would hit the game-winning shot and that stare he would just give to the stadium.
"Everyone knows those moments when you would fade away and you would and just yell, 'Kobe,' and that's kind of when it all started for me."