The news of the loss of Kobe Bryant at the age of 41 came as shock to his ex-Lakers teammate Wesley Johnson who is playing this season for Panathinaikos in Greece.
The two were really close, since they played together between 2013 and 2015. They also shared the same agent, Rob Pelinka, for a certain period of time. Johnson, the No.4 in the 2010 NBA Draft, spoke to the media about 24 hours after the fatal accident in Los Angeles that took nine lives, including that of the future Hall-Of-Famer and five-time NBA champion.
“It’s sad, tragic and unsettling. It’s every word that you can think of“, Johnson said after Panathinaikos’s game vs PAOK Thessaloniki in the OAKA Indoor Arena in Athens.
“Upon hearing the news, I was in disbelief. Someone texted me and told me that they heard that it might have happened, but it’s something you don’t want to believe. Then, I started getting more frequent messages that it had really happened. I’m still shocked as I’m receiving text messages from people, but my heart goes out to the family: to Vanessa and the girls. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling. For his family, it’s tough. Our prayers and our hearts go out to them. I hate that they have to deal with it, but they know I’m here for them. It’s a tragic situation, one of those nights when you don’t want to believe what you’re hearing”, the experienced forward told gathered reporters outside his team’s locker room.
He then went on to describe the nature of the bond that he developed with Kobe: “We were teammates for two years, but when I came into the NBA we had the same agent. So, I was around him all the time and we grew a friendship before I became his teammate. But seeing his preparation for games, how he recovered from the tough injuries he had and also his drive, it rubbed off on me and my everyday life. It’s one of those things that you never forget”.
Asked by TalkBasket.net about the Kobe memories that he will cherish for the rest of his life, Wes Johnson said that they mostly lie off the court. “I mean, he showed me his lowest points when he was coming back from his Achilles injury and his knee injury. He showed me how he recovered. He did that in every aspect: practice, playing, everything”.
Kobe imbued Johnson with the “Mamba mentality”, since the 33-year-old believes that “it’s not only about basketball. It’s about having that drive to make your life better, help one another and hold yourself accountable”.
The Texas-born forward thinks that this particular way of thinking and acting constitutes the real essence of Bryant’s legacy: “He endured that mentality throughout his career, but it’s more so in your everyday life. You can see it as he transcended it off the court by being the businessman investor and all the things that he did”.
In terms of his athletic merit, Johnson says “Jordan was the number one (athlete) before my time and I got to see him play, but Kobe was everything for me”.
Finally, when asked about the most valuable piece of advice he ever got from the 18-time All-Star, he responded plain and simple: “Seize the moment, seize the day. Whatever it is you’re doing, cherish every day, especially with your family. But challenge your energy as far as how you’re feeling. Challenge it into something you’re doing throughout the day, whether it’s basketball or your job”.