Jerry West may be the man whose silhouette graces the National Basketball Association logo, but he’s also the man who turned Kobe Bryant into a Los Angeles Laker.
The eight-time NBA champion spoke to CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith” about his relationship with the former Lakers superstar and his thoughts on his late friend, who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“I will remember it [Bryant] as someone I loved like a brother. The playful moments with him, some of the funny things and exchanges we had. Watching him when he first started what he became,” West told CNBC.
Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven other people died on Jan. 26, 2020, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California.
A former player and 14-time NBA All-Star, West went on to coach the Lakers, eventually moving to the team’s front office. He was behind the Lakers dynasty in the 1980s and has been the proud owner of nine championship rings throughout his life. He is also the man credited with bringing Bryant to the Lakers after orchestrating a day trade with the Charlotte Hornets.
West saw Bryant’s talent for basketball early on and didn’t shy away from the 17-year-old, despite only playing in high school.
“We just fell in love with him. From the moment we worked him out in Los Angeles, and especially the second time we worked him out… from then on it was like, I love this, how do we get this guy? “
The two developed a bond over the years. West said his son Bryant would drive around and his wife would cook him Italian food for dinner.
“He was one of the best players we’ve ever seen, but he was also one of the smartest players we’ve ever seen,” West said.
While Bryant has accomplished so much on the field, West was also proud of his contributions off the field, especially when it came to helping women’s basketball.
Bryant helped give a voice to the Women’s National Basketball Association and its players, often attending games with his daughter.
“He was a bright light” for female basketball players, West said. “Whatever he did turned to gold, and I think that was him as a person.”
On Saturday, Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, will induct him into the Hall of Fame. From an early age, Bryant looked up to Jordan and even tried to model his playing after him.
“This is going to be a historic night to honor an iconic player who is no longer with us, and it just doesn’t seem right to be honest,” West said. “To have his idol there representing him…I think we all feel a little robbed because of that.”