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Remembering Kobe: Steve Nash and Nets reflect on their first time playing Mamba, legacy against Nets

Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s death. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Bruce Brown, and Steve Nash shared some of their favorite stories about Bryant. From the first time competing against him to his legacy.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Brooklyn Nets Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

One year later, the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant shakes and reverberates around the NBA and the world. There are literally thousands of stories about Bryant from people who knew him to fans and others who witnessed his greatness from afar. From stories on his work ethic and his infamous Mamba Mentality to those on his greatness on the NBA hardwood and his role a “girl dad” and a loving parent, Bryant showed he knew how to icon.

The Nets did not have a collective remembrance during their practice Tuesday, but there was a lot of grief ... and joy.

“It is definitely more of an individual thing,” Joe Harris said following Tuesday’s practice. “We did not do anything specifically at practice. I think you look back honoring his life but you think about his family and lift up a prayer and a thought for them and their loved ones.

“Some of them are still grieving and struggling every day but I think in terms of collectively, it is certainly more of an individual thing. There are some guys that have more of a relationship than others and we didn’t do anything necessarily as a team.”

All the players on the Nets — and around the NBA — grew up watching Bryant and wanting to be just like him. Here are those individual recollections, prompted by a question from ESPN’s Rachel Nichols.

Kyrie Irving: ‘He was definitely an incredible mentor and still is.’

He FaceTimed Bryant after winning his first championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers from the locker room. Irving worked closely with Bryant during offseason play. The Nets point guard even challenged Bryant to a 1-on-1 during a Team USA practice for $50,000 in 2012.

Bryant was one of his closest mentors and following his tragic passing, Irving sat out the game later that day. One year later, the mourning and loss are still very raw. Not a day goes by without Bryant passing Irving’s mind.

“It is still so hard for me to talk about since it’s still so very raw, it is raw for so many other people and I know I’m not the only person feeling like this but every single day, it’s just me thinking about him,” Irving said about Bryant.

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

When Irving was asked to recall the first time playing against Kobe in the NBA, he recalled he was fresh off being selected first overall in the 2011 NBA Draft, a rookie out of Duke. Bryant, on the other hand, was coming off an amazing stretch of 40-point games. What stood out the most to the then 19-year-old Irving was Bryant’s ability to take over the game out of simple greatness.

“The first game I played against Kobe, I wasn’t really thinking too much. I was a rookie and he was coming off an unbelievable tear of 40-point games. I think he sprained his wrist a few times but he had, I think, two 40-point games before so when he came out in our game, I just saw and witnessed someone manipulate the whole entire game just based on his greatness. He was taking great shots and just giving an incredible effort. He was with Mike Brown at the time ironically and I knew they were dealing with things in their season of figuring things out.”

Cleveland Cavaliers v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Before coming into the league and becoming an NBA star, Irving was like hundreds of thousands of kids around the world learning about his greatness off the internet. Irving consumed himself with Bryant’s highlights and his maniacal approach to the game. To Irving, he wants to pass on the mentorship Bryant provided to him to others he plays with today.

“I remember most watching somebody that I literally grew up watching on YouTube. Watching all of his videos, all of his highlights, and consuming all the things he was doing just to be great. He was just maniacal about the game and I became like that. Now, I am just finding my balance in that as well and with Kobe, he was definitely an incredible mentor and still is. He left a lot with me and now it is my job to pass it on to others. I remember that day.”

The Nets point guard paid tribute to his mentor, showing up to Monday’s game vs. the Miami Heat wearing Bryant’s No. 8 jersey - the same jersey Irving grew up watching Bryant wear.

Like Bryant, who was an inspirational supporter of the WNBA, Irving followed his footsteps by offering only support but actions. Irving committed $1.5 million to supplement the income of those WNBA players who chose to opt-out of the WNBA ‘bubble’ due to coronavirus concerns or social justice reasons.

Kevin Durant: ‘I was just copying everything he did.’

Like Irving, Kevin Durant tried to emulate Kobe Bryant growing up as a young kid, especially when he got into the NBA. From how Bryant approached the media to how he prepared and conducted himself, Durant took note, tried to copy. Although he emulated Byrant, Durant never told him he was copying him.

“I just tried to emulate how he moved down to you guys in the media to how he worked out before the games to what he watched, I really tried to study as much as possible. I never told him that but as a younger player, I was just copying everything he did.”

As for the first time Durant shared the NBA hardwood with Bryant, it took place in Seattle when Durant was a SuperSonic and Bryant put on a stereotypical Kobe performance that he will never forget.

Seattle SuperSonics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In KD’s words: ‘He was just stoned-faced straight killer mode the whole game.’

“The first regular-season game we played against the Lakers, they came to Seattle on a back-to-back and he probably had 44 shots, 48 points, hit the game-winner, and didn’t say a word the whole game,” Durant said. “His approach to that season - they started the season without Pau [Gasol] and without the championship team they were building - he was just stone-faced straight killer mode the whole game. That is one of those moments I’ll never forget.”

Durant played alongside Bryant in multiple All-Star games and were teammates on Team USA’s gold medal team in the 2012 Olympics and the 2010 FIBA World Championship.

Olympics Day 2 - Basketball Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

James Harden: ‘He was my idol growing up and it was a blessing to be on the same court as him and compete. I miss him.’

One of the first times James Harden played Kobe Bryant was in the playoffs during his rookie season - the same year Bryant won his fourth ring. Being a rookie, Harden admitted it was difficult going up against his childhood idol and his smack-talking left Bryant unfazed. “The Beard” misses Bryant and was blessed to share the hardwood with him.

“My rookie year, we played against them in the playoffs,” Harden said on playing against Kobe while with OKC. “That is the year they won the championship and I was just trying my best. I was talking smack and in his ear. He wasn’t fazed by it. Obviously, millions of people talked smack to him every single day but he was my idol growing up and it was a blessing to be on the same court as him and compete. I miss him.”

Harden was also a member of Team USA’s 2012 Gold Medal team.

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Bruce Brown: ‘He is one of those special talents that don’t come around often not just on the court but just off the court.’

Bruce Brown provided a different perspective on Bryant. He grew up in Boston as a Celtics fan. In fact, the last game Brown attended as a fan before joining the NBA was in TD Garden watching Bryant take on Boston. As he watched Kobe go off. Brown’s dog-like mentality became more inspired by Bryant’s work ethic - a quality the Nets guard brings every night on the court.

“Growing up, I’m from Boston so I was always on the other end watching Kobe - being a Celtics fan and not wanting him to do well but the man was different,” Brown said about Bryant. “He did everything out there. My last time going to an NBA game before I played in the league was Kobe playing at the Celtics. He went off. For me, my personal game, he was a dog. He didn’t care about anything out there. No friends out there and went out there and played hard. That’s what I do every night.

“He is one of those special talents that don’t come around often not just on the court but just off the court.”

Steve Nash: ‘He was an incredible father and was starting to embark on that chapter of his life that was remarkable and something I really admired about him.’

Steve Nash did not only play against Bryant like Irving, Harden, and Durant. He was his teammate on the Lakers in his final years as a player in the league and was in the same draft class as Bryant (1996). In 1996, Nash was labeled as ‘The Canadian Kid’ while Bryant was always an international presence, having grown up in Italy for a portion of his childhood.

1996 NBA DRAFT Photo by Steve Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

When asked about what Nash learned playing with Bryant in the closing years of his career, Bryant’s personal life stood out to Nash and how he overcame rough moments early in his career and becoming so beloved throughout the world.

“I would take it somewhere else and just say that we know Kobe the basketball player. We know the drive, competitive nature, gifts, talent, the resume, and all that stuff but I think what is important in my eyes is his career arc,” Nash said of Bryant. “From some rough moments with his personality to how he redeemed all that and became so beloved by so many.”

Beyond Bryant’s legacy as an NBA player, Nash said he values his role as an “incredible father” more than everything.

“For me most importantly, he was an incredible father. That to me is the tragedy of Kobe’s passing is that he was an incredible father and was starting to embark on that chapter of his life that was remarkable and something I really admired about him.”

Jeff Green: ‘My welcome to the NBA moment.’

Jeff Green, the most senior Net, took to Instagram to “talk” about his first game against Kobe as a rookie with the Supersonics in 2007. It was indeed memorable.

Some extra memories: Kobe and the Nets

There is no secret Bryant was a true Nets killer throughout his NBA career. Bryant, along with Shaquille O’Neal and the Lakers, stopped the Nets from collecting their first NBA championship back in 2002.

After splitting both of their regular-season games, the Nets and Lakers reunited in the 2002 NBA Finals. Led by Jason Kidd and coached by Bryant’s former teammate, Byron Scott, the New Jersey Nets could not find answers to Bryant and Shaq as Los Angeles breezed past and swept New Jersey 4-0 to win Bryant’s third championship, becoming the youngest player in league history to win three rings.

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant (L) and Shaquille O Photo credit should read MATT CAMPBELL/AFP via Getty Images

A memory of Kobe that most Nets fans will remember (and some would like to forget) came in February 2013 when the Lakers came to Brooklyn. With the game tied at 80 with three minutes remaining, Bryant drove the lane with the shot clock running down and slamming home a poster over Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries igniting Barclays Center a thunderous roar of noise and leaving everyone amazed.

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

But the memory that will resonate for years to come came four days before Christmas in 2019 when Bryant sitting courtside with his daughter Gigi, offering her pointers on the game between the Nets and the Hawks.

Bryant’s legacy on the NBA hardwood will forever be embedded on basketball’s spirit, not just in purple and gold, but in all the colors of every team that ever takes the court. Rest in power.