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‘We’re different animals but the same beast,’ Richard Sherman and the 49ers share their stories about Kobe Bryant

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After the shocking tragedy to Kobe and Gianna Bryant that unfolded in Los Angeles, 49ers’ players react to the global icon’s passing.

NBA Finals Game 7: Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The mood at Super Bowl Opening Night could be described as tempered, as the sudden and unexpected passing of Los Angeles Lakers’ legend Kobe Bryant jolted the sports universe the day before.

The story of the tragic helicopter crash that took the life of Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna “GiGi” Bryant and seven other passengers, may have shocked the world 36 hours before, but its profound impact could be felt over 3,000 miles away in Miami, FL.

News of the heartbreaking accident emerged while the 49ers’ team plane was en route to southern Florida, and most players reacted on social media with heavy hearts as they landed for Super Bowl week.

One of the 49ers’ players that had a close connection to Bryant was corner Richard Sherman, who looked up to the Lakers’ icon and hosted him in a charity softball game years before in Seattle.

Sherman spoke at length about Bryant and his deep respect and admiration for the Black Mamba was on full display:

Well it’s unfortunate. It’s really sad. He [Kobe Bryant] was a friend of mine, he was a mentor. He meant a lot to this world and he made a positive impact and there’s nothing that I can say to quantify his impact on me and others and I just know how he would’ve wanted me to take this to react especially in this moment and in this game.

I was really sad yesterday and really sad today morning and I was kind of down and in the dumps and I thought what he would tell me and tell me to stop being a baby and to man up and play it and do it in his honor and win this game for him. That’s what we’re going to try and do. I’m going to go out there and play some dominating football, just like he wanted. The Mamba Mentality lives on.

Well he meant a lot, he meant a lot to everyone. He meant a lot to the city of Los Angeles and he’s a tremendous honor. There’s enough of praise or words that I could give him in my vernacular or vocabulary that would give him the respect he deserves. But he deserves every inch, every ounce of respect and gratitude and he gave me a ton of inspiration and I’m sure he inspired trillions of other kids. There’s no limit to the impact that he’s had on my city and on cities around the world.

I guess the biggest Mamba Mentality moment of my career was getting up from a torn achilles and walking off the field. I saw him do it. I saw him get up and make two free throws and walk off with a torn achilles. We’re different animals but the same beast. We’re built from a lot of the same stuff.

Tight end George Kittle added that the Lakers’ legend was a key reason — outside of his parents — for participating in sports:

It was awful. Kobe was, other than my parents, a reason I played sports, just his mindset, the Mamba Mentality. I wore the number 24 in high school my freshman, sophomore year because of him. I wore Kobe Bryant basketball shoes because of Kobe Bryant...He’s an icon. He was a hero of mine. The world’s not a better place without him but I think the impact that he has, he’s going to change a lot just with his life. I’m definitely sad and it sucks, honestly.

49ers’ breakout running back, Raheem Mostert described his respect for Bryant:

Kobe [Bryant] not only meant a lot to myself, but everyone. He really transcended the game. He did all the right things. He’s always been a positive guy. His mentality was unparalleled and unmatched. Nobody could really match that guy’s mentality or personality.

He’s always been a competitor and that’s what you want when you play a game that you love. My favorite Kobe moment was when he was with Shaq [O’Neal]. Me being from Orlando, and I was a big Magic fan and so when Shaq left and went to the Lakers that was a moment for the both of them. They were a tandem.

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk added how big of an inspiration Bryant was to him growing up:

He was absolutely an inspiration. I don’t know how many times in school, I rolled up a piece of paper, shot at the trash can and yelled Kobe! He was the ultimate grinder and any time he spoke, he always had extreme class and had good things to say.

The elder statesman on the 49ers — tackle Joe Staley — was also deeply struck by Bryant’s sudden passing, had this reaction:

Yeah, we found out on the plane. It was very emotional...Kobe [Bryant] was an icon in sports. He was a guy that was supposed to live forever.

Kobe Bryant was a superhero, a larger-than-life persona that dominated in the sport of basketball while inspiring millions across the world to persevere and dedicate their lives to perfecting their craft — regardless of what it was.

When the stunning news of his death broke on Sunday morning, it began to place a greater perspective on the more meaningful things in life. When someone of that great stature and magnitude is taken away early, the more imperative things in life start to become coherent.

Talking about Kobe Bryant today, nobody brings up the five championships that he brought to Los Angeles or the Gold Medals he won for the United States or the numerous accolades he has tucked away in his home.

It’s about the legacy — aka Mamba Mentality — he’s left behind on a generation of athletes and others across the world. While Bryant’s life was far too short, his lasting imprint on sports reaches beyond just his on-court success.

The desire to win at all costs, the dedication to the process, the relentless drive to not fall short of perfection, and the pursuit of greatness daily is what I will admire about Bryant the most.

Growing up, I rooted against Bryant and the Lakers, but as I got older, my respect and admiration for the person grew. My favorite version of Kobe was the post-retirement one, a caring father of four daughters that put their interests first, an ambassador for basketball, and a mentor to young athletes.

With the Super Bowl week in full swing, it’s bigger than the game that’s happening on Sunday. At the end of the day, it’s all about the legacy, the positive impact you have on the people around you and what people will remember you for.

In Bryant’s case, his Mamba Mentality is infused into this 49ers’ team on and off the field, as their biggest on-field challenge awaits this weekend.