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.
View this post on Instagram
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
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.