When former Laker John Salley asked a newly-professional Kobe Bryant if he was going to be "the next Michael Jordan," he said Bryant replied "no, I'll be the first Kobe Bryant." Salley was wrapping up his 14-season NBA career, meeting the young Kobe Bryant when he was just beginning his.
"He's the biggest Laker of all time. As big as Magic, bigger than Kareem, bigger than Jerry West," he told CBS News' Dana Jacobsen.when their helicopter crashed into the Calabasas hillside on Sunday morning.
Salley had already won three NBA championships when Bryant joined in 1999, and described how he saw him transform from a young rising star to become "the grand master."
He said Bryant had studied VHS tapes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Clyde Dexter to find ways to improve his game, but while playing, his head was entirely on himself.
"Kobe would sit, put his headphones on and listen to music, sit in a corner. And I would go sit next to him," he said. "I would tap him – he'd be like 'oh,' and he'd take out his headphones. I said, 'you're not listening to anything.'" When asked why, Salley said Bryant replied, "I want to hear what they say about me."
Salley revealed that Bryant had to step up to his high-profile new role off the basketball court as well.
"He started becoming more comfortable with his speech – because he didn't like the way he talked at one time. He realized the world was gonna be on him. So he's like, let 'em in." he said.
The basketball star said Bryant's demeanor taught him life lessons that he carries beyond his professional sports career. "He constantly said life is short, so I have re-worded my whole vernacular. I don't speak in bad thoughts. I won't deal in the belly of negativity."
"He just showed you – this is life. Ups and downs. And we all followed," Salley said.
Asked how he would like people to remember Kobe Bryant, he replied "I want them to remember that this was a guy that played basketball, but transcended it."