As the entire NBA family continues to mourn after the shocking and tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna on Sunday, a number of his former teammates have opened up about their relationships with him, including Knicks forward Julius Randle.
Randle was drafted by the Lakers with the seventh pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and spent three seasons with Bryant on the court. Now a member of the Knicks, Randle struggled to process what has happened in the last 72 hours.
"Yeah, I don't know when I'll be able to come to peace with it," Randle said, according to Newsday. "Right now I'm not. It's still not really reality for me. It's not about me, man. It's about those families. I feel bad for those families. That's really what it is for me."
In the first game of his career, Randle broke his leg while on the Staples Center floor and had to miss the entire season. Bryant was seen consoling Randle on the court for a number of minutes as medical staff tended to his leg.
"For me, man, he was everything, bro," Randle said. "That was my childhood hero growing up. So it's a very unfortunate situation for me, but I can't imagine what his family is going through, all the families that are involved. My prayers are with them. He's a mamba, so it's everything.
"That [relationship] meant everything to me. Just to know that anytime I could text him or call him, he'll pick up the phone. He's like a big brother for me. For me, like I said, it was everything because I grew up idolizing him. You can't say anything bad about him. I worship the ground that he walked on. To be able to be in L.A. and establish a relationship with him was amazing for me."
Bryant continued to help Randle throughout his career, even after that rough start to his rookie season, all the way until Bryant's final game, where he pulled in the Lakers' young core group of Randle, D'Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson, seemingly passing on the torch to them.
"I've got so many stories I could tell, so many things I learned from him," Randle said. "You grow up idolizing somebody you don't really know what to expect when you first meet him. It was everything I expected and more. It's crazy. The GM here [with the Hornets], Mitch Kupchak, was my GM in L.A.. He always used to tell me, watch everything that he does. That's exactly what I did. I watched his every move. I could go on forever what I can take from him and learn from him. For me, I'm just going to ... just pray for his family. It's not about me. He has three beautiful daughters that he has, a lovely caring wife. There are a bunch of families involved for such a tragic. tragic thing.
"He was an open book, man. He was an open book. Honestly, he was always there. When I say he was always there, answering the phone, whenever you needed him, whenever you wanted to get some work in, he was there. When we were in L.A., I was actually going to go see him, but because of our practice schedule, the tournament that he had with his daughter, it didn't really line up for me to get a chance to go out there. When I say he was an open book, he was literally like an open book. His thing was don't be afraid to ask me anything. That's what it was."
The Knicks faced the Nets on Sunday just a few hours after the news of Bryant's death broke, and Randle said he considered sitting that game out, but ultimately played in Bryant's honor.
"I don't know, man. It was tough for me, honestly, dealing with it," he said. "You know, honestly, it's been a rough month, my grandmother [passing earlier this month] and this. It's been tough, tough to honestly find the motivation to play. Honestly, everything I did was because of him. He really set the bar for me. It's been a tough go, for sure."