Monday was a tough day for the Michigan Wolverines men’s basketball team on more than a few levels, but the story that is permeating through the sports world and the elephant in the room continues to be the loss of an icon in NBA legend Kobe Bryant.
Head coach Juwan Howard spoke to the media on Monday prior to Tuesday night’s game at Nebraska and addressed at length what the former Los Angeles Lakers star meant to him and his family, as well as the loss of Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna in the accident.
Here is the full transcript of his reaction to Bryant’s passing:
“It’s tough, it really is. It’s tough for the basketball world, basketball community. But it’s very challenging for the Bryant family and other families that were lost in this tragic situation. When you talk about Kobe Bryant, in the basketball community, especially NBA, NBA is a family. When you come through that world, Kobe becomes one of your brothers. So he’s like a brother to me and many others. It’s a big loss to our family. My wife was very emotional. It’s been an emotional time for my family because he was a hero and an icon to us all. My kids looked up to him. One of my boys, that was his favorite player growing up. Still is. Kobe was one of my favorite players growing up, and I was older than Kobe. I respected Kobe and how he approached the game of basketball. His work ethic was like no other. He reminds me of No. 23, Michael Jordan, in so many ways. I’ve had a chance myself, personally to get to know Michael and become friends with Michael... I saw a lot of Kobe in Michael.
As we all know, he’s a five-time NBA Champion, which is very hard to do. 20 years in the NBA. It goes to show you about his level of toughness when a guy tears his Achilles, goes up to the free throw line, makes the free throws and then walks off the court himself. It shows you how he’s wired. Like, ‘I’m not gonna allow a stretcher, I’m not gonna allow anyone to carry me off. I’m gonna walk off on my own.’ That’s mental toughness. When you hear the word toughness, obviously Kobe’s name has to come to mind. So when you hear a situation like this with what happened with Kobe and Gigi and others... I’m a father and I can only imagine what his family’s going through. No one wants to experience anything like that. So it’s been a very difficult time for all of us because Kobe meant a lot, not just to the basketball world, he was inspiring to many folks. The guy won an Oscar. Think about that. The guy has winning built within his DNA. He’s wired different. He’s a five-time champion, 18-time all-star, All-NBA first team for probably 11 years. Two-time Finals MVP, and then you win an Oscar and he was also a part of Body Armor, and Body Armor blew up like no other in the market. He’s a part owner in that.
To write stories and books and to inspire kids and you’re the head coach of your daughter’s basketball team, and she had a lot of Kobe DNA in her, too. I watched film, I watched it on social media. Like, ‘Damn! She’s 13 years old and she’s doing that?’ And I knew that Coach Geno (Auriemma) from UConn, Kobe and Geno had a really good relationship. Kobe also had a good relationship with Nike with his own Nike line. And I knew Oregon was very interested in his daughter. But I was also gonna put in my little bid and say, ‘You might wanna consider Coach Kim (Barnes Arico) at the University of Michigan! She has a great school, great academics.’ I’d put my bid in, because she was an exceptional basketball player for her age. She wanted to be great like her dad. This is a tough one, fellas. This is tough.”
Howard also shared a story of a time the two crossed paths when Howard was an assistant coach with the Miami Heat.
“I think I had just started coaching, and we were in the Staples Center,” Howard said. “At the Staples Center, you cross the home team’s locker room to get to the visiting team’s locker room. And I saw Kobe, we were crossing paths. I said, ‘How long you gonna end up playing for?’ He says to me: ‘Until I win two more championships.’
“I’m like, this is probably his 17th year and the guy didn’t say, ‘Okay, I’m gonna play until my 20th year.’ He said: ‘Until I win two more championships.’ That’s how he was wired. He had a quest to break (Michael Jordan’s) NBA Finals Championship record. Six, and Kobe was going for seven. And he could have done it. That’s how good he was.
“Great basketball player, great father, great man.”
Bryant and his daughter were among nine people tragically killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning in Calabasas, California. The eldest Bryant was 41-years-old, while his daughter Gianna was 13.