Jerry West may be the man whose silhouette graces the National Basketball Association logo, but he’s also the man responsible for making Kobe Bryant a Los Angeles Laker.
The eight-time NBA champion spoke to CNBC’s “The News with Shepard Smith” about his relationship with the former Lakers superstar and his thoughts about his late friend, who will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“I’ll remember [Bryant] as someone that I loved like a brother. The playful moments with him, some of the funny things and exchanges we had. Watching him when he first started to what he became,” West told CNBC.
Bryant, 41, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven other people died Jan. 26, 2020, in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California.
West, a former player and 14-time NBA All-Star, went on to coach the Lakers and eventually moved to the team’s front office. He was behind the Lakers’ dynasty in the ’80s and is the proud owner of eight championship rings over his lifetime. He is also the man who is credited with bringing Bryant to the Lakers after orchestrating a draft-day trade with the Charlotte Hornets.
West saw Bryant’s talent for basketball early on and didn’t shy away from the 17-year-old, despite his only playing in high school.
Jerry West and Kobe Bryant greet before the game between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers on December 18, 2017 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California.
Andrew D. Bernstein | NBAE via Getty Images
“We just fell in love with him. From the time we worked him out in Los Angeles, and particularly the second time we worked him out … from then on was like, I love this, how do we get this guy?”
The two developed a bond throughout the years. West said his son would drive Bryant around and his wife would cook him Italian food for dinner.
“He was one of the greatest players we’ve ever seen, but he also was one of the very smartest players we’ve ever seen,” said West.
While Bryant achieved so much on the court, West also was proud of his off-court contributions, particularly when it came to helping women’s basketball.
Bryant helped give a voice to the Women’s National Basketball Association and its players, often attending games with his daughter.
“He was a bright light” for women basketball players, West said. “Whatever he did turned to gold, and I think that’s who he was as a person.”
On Saturday, Bryant’s idol, Michael Jordan, will be inducting him into the Hall of Fame. From a young age, Bryant looked up to Jordan and even tried to model his game after him.
“This will be a historic night to honor an iconic player who is no longer with us, and it just doesn’t seem right, to be honest with you,” said West. “To have his idol there introducing him … I think we all feel a little bit robbed because of that.”