Throughout two decades Jerry West and the late great Kobe Bryant built a strong relationship that changed both of their lives in many ways. West, who was the architect of many championship teams, especially with the Lakers, was the first to see that Kobe was special even at the age of 17. After West drafted him and became a mentor to Kobe, their relationship grew deeper, crowned with a lot of success in the upcoming years.
In a recent ESPN interview, West talked about what made Kobe unique and why he decided to draft him in the 1996 draft. That draft class is still considered one of the best in NBA history, and 17-year-old Kobe wasn’t the most prominent name in a class that had Iverson, Allen, Marbury, and several other great players.
He was different, and you could see it, you could feel it. We honestly felt he was the number one player taken in that draft. There were good players there with Allen Iverson as the first pick in the draft, but I felt he was better.Jerry West, via ESPN
West also talked about the conversations and a lot of trash talk that was sometimes going back and forth between them on who would win in a potential matchup between them.
We had some unbelievable conversations. I used to tell him you foul too much, and you would be out of the game in no time if you are guarding me. I asked him if he’s the Black Mamba, and he said yes. I said I’m a mongoose, and they kill every black mamba, and you can look it at Youtube seeing these things fighting, and mongoose wins every time. He said I’m not an ordinary black mamba, and I said I’m not an ordinary mongoose either.Jerry West, via ESPN
Spending countless hours with Kobe and becoming more than friends crated special respect between the two, and West still believes the world lost a leader when Kobe died because of that tragic accident.
To try and remember him properly, I don’t know how everyone does, but I know how I do. I loved him like a son, I admired his talent. Leaders don’t come as often, and when someone of his caliber leaves far too young, it takes a toll on a lot of people and particularly on people that cared about him a lot.Jerry West, via ESPN