Everyone who has a connection to basketball has a connection to the late Kobe Bryant, even if it’s just falling in love with the sport through watching his game on TV.
But Warriors rookie Nico Mannion had a personal connection with Bryant as well.
Growing up, Mannion would attend Utah Jazz games because his father worked on the pre and post-game shows for the team. When he was 10 years old, he went to Game 6 of the Western Conference finals between the Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers to watch his favorite player play.
That player was Bryant.
Usually, Mannion would get to the arena two to three hours before the game to watch warmups courtside, but that day watching just wasn’t enough.
“After the game, I told my dad, ‘Dad I want to meet Kobe,’” Mannion told reporters during a Zoom call Monday afternoon. “My dad said, ‘Well, you know how to get down to the hallways where the locker room.’ He’s like, ‘Go down. There will be a lot of people, but if you want to get his attention, say something in Italian because he speaks Italian.’”
Bryant was the last one out of the locker room, and as he made his way down the hall, Mannion shouted something in Italian.
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“He came over and got on a knee and talked to me for like 10 minutes,” Mannion said. “He asked me how school was, how basketball was, what my hobbies are. For him to be one of the best players in the world, the last one out of the locker room and take 10 minutes out of his day to just come to spend time with me just really opened my eyes. It’s bigger than basketball."
Mannion, like so many of us, remembers the exact moment he found out Bryant died.
While the Warriors were in the middle of practice when the news hit the team, Mannion was still in college at Arizona. He was in his bedroom scrolling through Twitter when he saw the news. He picked up the phone to call his dad to ask if it was real.
With the anniversary of Bryant's death coming Tuesday, Mannion is thankful for the moment he got with the Black Mamba.
“He made a memory for me that will last me a lifetime. And he’s done that for countless people.”