Following the Nets' 125-115 win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday night, Kyrie Irving spoke about the impact that the late Kobe Bryant had on his life.
For Irving, it was his first time speaking publicly about Bryant, who, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, passed away at the age of 41 in a helicopter accident on Sunday.
Irving, who Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said was much closer to Bryant than many knew, spoke about how much of an impact that Bryant had on his life, both on and off of the court. In fact, Bryant offered Irving guidance while he was navigating his trade demand out of Cleveland.
"I asked him for help, probably about four or five years ago I asked him for some help, and I don't think I was probably ready to be a mentee at that point," Irving explained. "In some ancient - I'm going to go real deep on you guys, you know I am - in some ancient texts they say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear, and I had that type of mentorship relationship with him where I was able to ask him almost anything, no matter how nervous I was or how fearful I was. He just was easy to approach with those types of questions about what goes on in a day in and day out basis of chasing something that's bigger than yourself.
"When you're trying to leave a legacy or leave something of a mark on a game, they're going to come with a lot of sacrifices, there's going to come a lot of hate, there's coming to come a lot of love, there's going to become a lot of balance that you must create in your life. And he left a lot of teachings, a lot breadcrumbs I call them, and I just followed all of them, I followed every single one. That probably pays a lot of focus into the person that I am today, really just listening, asking questions to see what he was doing to create … I saw what he was creating and I knew that I wanted that same structure. He had his company, he had his own belief system, he had his own principles that he lived by. Excuse my language, he didn't give a f--k what anyone said.
"I'm glad that he's getting his just due in his legacy now more than ever."
Irving also spoke about how just about every NBA player Bryant ever played against looked up to the 18-time All-Star, and how Bryant set an example for all players to follow.
"I think he always made a huge impact while he was playing, and we always knew that he was focused on one goal, and that was getting that gold trophy, getting a ring, making sure that he crushed every record, he crushed every opponent," Irving said. "He had peers looking up to him. It's not common when you're playing against somebody and they're looking up to you the way we all looked up to him while we're out there on the court. Like I said, when you study someone like that, you try to embody that spirit, and while he was here, I tried to embody that spirit … He was able to just give me some direction when I needed it most."
Irving scored 20 points and added five assists on Wednesday night, his first game back after sitting out Sunday's game following the news breaking of Bryant's death.
"The best thing to do is to lay your craft down, the craft that you love so much, and just walk away from it, and that's what I did at MSG (on Sunday)," said Irving. "I couldn't even come up with wanting to play that game. It was so heartbreaking, and it still is. … You just go through every emotion and be human, honestly."
Irving added that the death of Bryant remains an open wound for him, which is understandable given the nature of their relationship. The point guard teared up during the singing of the national anthem and pointed to the sky as he exited the game in the fourth quarter.
Irving noted after the game that he'd also lost his grandfather in the last year. He called Bryant and his grandfather 'two great
leaders' in his life.
"It's not easy just to flip a switch and turn the page," Irving said.
Irving also spoke to ESPN on the Barclays Center court right after the game's final whistle, displaying even more emotion for all of those involved in Sunday's accident.
"I'm trying to keep my emotions together. His family, and his friends - it's just hard to even conjure up the words. You try to find a clear-cut message that you would send to Gigi and Kobe and everybody that lost their lives in such a tragedy like that, it's just, it's hard," Irving said. "I've been trying to do this the last few days, just try to get ready for a moment like this, but I've just got to let it be, let it flow. I know he's there watching, as well as Gigi and the young ballplayers who were on the (helicopter) as well."