Russell Westbrook: ‘I am devastated about the passing of Kobe & Gigi, on every level’

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Russell Westbrook is a Southern California kid — born in Long Beach, Leuzinger high school, then UCLA.

That means he grew up watching Kobe Bryant up close. Like other Los Angeles area high school ballers of his generation — including James Harden — Kobe was a massive influence.

Kobe’s tragic death in a helicopter crash — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others — hit Westbrook hard. Saturday he made his first public statements on Kobe’s passing, turning to Instagram.

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I’ve been stuck and not really knowing how to put all that I’ve been feeling into words over the past several days. I am devastated about the passing of Kobe & Gigi, on every level. I met Kobe when I was 16 at UCLA playing against him in a pick up game. He played like it was the NBA finals. From that point on, I decided that I wanted to emulate his Mamba mentality. At the time, there was no name for it, but I recognized in him what I always felt in myself. He became a friend, a brother, a mentor, a teacher, he defended me, he believed in me, and he taught me how to weather the storm. I can go on and on, but I want to thank you for being my idol, & inspiration. I will pray for you and your family everyday just as I do my own. I love you Kobe. My heart and prayers also go out to the other families involved in last weeks accident. #RIPKobe #RIPGigi

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Westbrook, like a lot of people, is trying to process all of this while moving on with his life. That includes the current Lakers. Friday night, with a series of pregame tributes, the Lakers played a basketball game for the first time since the accident. It was cathartic and the start of a healing process.

Westbrook is looking for that as well.