On the eve of when the Lakers and the NBA will pay tribute to Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson eloquently spoke about how the iconic player’s death has affected Los Angeles and basketball fans around the world.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died last month in a helicopter crash in nearby Calabasas.
“It’s going to be hard for the city to move on,” Johnson said. “… it’s hard in a two-minute, five-minute time to say everything that he meant to the world, to the NBA, to basketball fans, because he’s just bigger than life. It’ll take a long year to get over his passing and (his) daughter and the seven other people who lost their lives as well.”
There will be “A Celebration of Life for Kobe & Gigi Bryant” Monday morning at Staples Center.
Johnson spoke Sunday morning at Staples Center, before the Lakers played the Celtics, at an event Los Angeles owner Jeanie Buss and Boston owner Wyc Grousbeck hosted in celebration of one of the best rivalries in the NBA and in sports.
Bill Russell, considered the best Celtic ever because of his 11 NBA championships, was also at the event, showing his appreciation for Bryant by wearing his No. 24 jersey.
Former Lakers Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis and former Celtics Cedric Maxwell and Brian Scalabrine were part of the panel that talked about their times competing in the rivalry.
Johnson eased his way into the room after the group had started talking, but it didn’t take long for him to speak about Bryant.
“He loved the Lakers organization. He loved Jeanie. He loved (former Lakers owner) Dr. (Jerry) Buss,” Johnson said.
Johnson recalled how Bryant scored a career-high 81 points against the Toronto Raptors and 60 points against the Utah Jazz in the final game of his 20-year career with the Lakers.
“Who goes out at 60 points in their last game? It was truly amazing,” Johnson said. “Every night you might see something that you would never ever see before again.”
Johnson marveled at how Bryant was “living his best life after basketball” by working with Gianna on her basketball skills, getting involved in women’s sports and working out current NBA players.
“His relationship with his kids, with his wife, the work in the community… He was about women’s athletics, the WNBA,” Johnson said. “He worked out with everybody. The list of players that this man worked out with — Kawhi (Leonard), Kyrie Irving, (Jayson) Tatum of the Celtics, on and on and on. He would give his time and his knowledge of the game to all these young players. And I just loved his relationship with his girls and his wife. They were coming to the L.A. Sparks games.”
Johnson recalled how then-Lakers general manager Jerry West praised Bryant after the 17-year-old guard had an outstanding workout against Cooper, who had been a tough defensive player for the Lakers during the 1980s.
“Jerry said this is the greatest workout we’ve ever seen from anybody,” Johnson said. “Just think about the Lakers history, and so I said, ‘OK, wow!’ And when he came as a rookie, the commitment to being great, working hard each and every day, he was up at three or four in the morning, already did a two-hour workout. Then he would come here and work out with the Lakers. He was committed to just dominating and he did.”