NBA players continue to grieve over the loss of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, who died with eight others, including his daughter, Gianna, in a helicopter crash on Sunday. While speaking with media members on Wednesday, Clippers star forward Paul George, an L.A. native who grew up idolizing Bryant, said that Kobe was the reason that he started playing basketball in the first place.
"He was my Michael Jordan. He was what every kid wanted to be here [in L.A.]," George said. "I started playing basketball because of Kobe. I attacked the game the way he played both ends. I took so many things away from him. He made a big impression on me as a kid, just about how to go about playing the game. Aside from God-given talent, I credit everything else from him.
"It just touches and hits me at all angles," George continued. "From idolizing him as a kid to developing friendship and brotherhood to now having conversations with him this summer at his Mamba Academy and talking about fatherhood. It's just some shit you can't get over."
George isn't the only player that credits Bryant with inspiring them to pick up a basketball, as 76ers All-Star center on Tuesday night; after he wore a No. 24 jersey and scored 24 points to honor Bryant.
"Back in 2010 watching the Finals, Lakers against Celtics, that was the turning point in my life," Embiid said. "Watching that Finals, watching Kobe. After watching I just wanted to be like him. I just wanted to play basketball ... I don't think if it wasn't for that moment, I wouldn't be here. [I] probably would have been playing volleyball or something ... [Kobe] meant a lot to me."
"I talked to Kobe last year before the season and right after we won in the locker room," Leonard said. "Me and Phil Handy worked out with him before I went to Toronto, and then he was probably the first or second guy we talked to, other than our teammates or family, after we won in the locker room."
Leonard also revealed that he often flew with the helicopter pilot of Bryant's tragic flight, Ara Zobayan. Though Leonard is shaken by the accident and Bryant's untimely demise, he's unsure if it will alter his approach to helicopter travel moving forward.
"The things that you hear, you don't know what's real yet," Leonard said. "I can't really speak on it. I don't know yet. There's a lot of thoughts in my head." Though Leonard is undecided, it will be interesting to see if others athletes think twice about traveling via helicopter moving forward in light of what happened to Bryant.
Bryant's impact on the game is evident every time one of his peers reflects on him, and clearly his influence has been felt by both Leonard and George, two of the game's top forwards.