Kobe Bryant told his close friends he ‘wanted to die young and be immortalized’, according to told NBA Hall of Famer Tracy McGrady.
The two basketball stars bonded as youngsters as their NBA careers took off and McGrady said he credits LA Lakers star Bryant, 41, with helping him to survive his first few seasons in the game.
Breaking down in tears former Houston Rockets star McGrady, who retired in 2013, told ESPN of Bryant’s death: ‘I’m devastated, just like everybody else. I know this sounds crazy, but he spoke this, he used to say all the time “I wanna die young, I wanna be immortalized and have my career be better than Michael Jordan and I want to die young”.
‘And I just thought he was so crazy for saying that. And when I got the news yesterday I just could not believe it.’
Tracy McGrady, right, hugs Kobe Bryant, left, before the Radio Shack Shooting Stars competition during NBA All-Star Weekend at the Toyota Center in February 2008
On Monday, investigators worked along a rugged hillside outside Los Angeles where the helicopter carrying Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, 13, and six other passengers crashed
NBA legend Bryant and eight others were killed when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed into a hillside on Sunday morning
Ara Zobayan, 50, was flying the aircraft when it reportedly plummeted nearly 500 feet in 15 seconds before crashing and killing Bryant, 41, his daughter, Gianna, 13, John Altobelli, 56, his wife, Keri, and their daughter Alyssa. The crash also killed Payton Chester and her mom, Sarah, as well as Christina Mauser.
An emotional McGrady said the comments Bryant made about dying young ‘were made before he had children, adding: ‘Once he had kids he did not have that mindset.’
He said Bryant helped him through his first seasons as a player, explaining: ‘I used to stay at his house. I just remember the minute I walked through those doors, it was an instant bond.
‘My first two three seasons I probably wouldn’t have made it through those seasons if it was not for Kobe because he came in a year before me. I used to call and lean on him for advice all the time and he would give me that advice because we were brothers.’
Bryant wrote in his book Mamba Mentality: ‘Tracy McGrady was the single hardest match-up I had in my career, he could just do about everything on offense.’
Of Kobe’s daughter Gianna, who was known to loved ones as Gigi, McGrady said: ‘We were reunited because of our kids and coaching our kids.
‘Him watching my kids play was the greatest thing. And I would sit there and watch Gigi before the game.
‘I go up and I give Gigi a hug and tell her “go out there and kill” and she was like “don’t worry about that, I got this”.
‘And she was special, she was built like Kobe. Just to watch her play was like watching a young Kobe. It just looked like her dad out there.
‘She’s not going to get that opportunity, he’s not going to get that chance for her to carry on that legacy. This is hard.’
Bryant wrote in his book Mamba Mentality: ‘Tracy McGrady was the single hardest match-up I had in my career, he could just do about everything on offense.’ The pair are pictured in 2007
Kobe Bryant pictured with his wife Vanessa Bryant and daughters Natalia Diamante Bryant (far left), Gianna Maria-Onore Bryant (far right), and Bianka Bella Bryant
When it struck the ground, the helicopter was flying at about 184mph and descending at a rate of more than 4,000 feet per minute, the data showed.
The chopper went down in Calabasas, about 30 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Bryant’s chopper was only 17 miles from its destination, the Mamba Sports Academy when the crash occurred.
Thousands of fans, many wearing Bryant jerseys and chanting his name, gathered outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, home of the Lakers and site of Sunday’s Grammy Awards where Bryant was honored.
Payton Chester (left), was also killed in the crash along with her mother Sarah Chester (right)
Among those killed in the crash were John Altobelli (left), 56, longtime head coach of Southern California’s Orange Coast College baseball team; his wife, Keri (left, with John); and daughter, Alyssa (right), who played on the same basketball team as Bryant’s daughter, said Altobelli’s brother, Tony, who is the sports information director at the school
The pilot was identified as Ara Zobayan (left). He was killed in the crash alongside Christina Mauser (right, with her husband, Matt), a girls basketball coach at a nearby elementary school
Bryant was one of the game’s most popular players and the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers.
The dad of four retired in 2016 as the third-leading scorer in NBA history, finishing two decades with the Lakers as a prolific shot-maker with a sublime all-around game and a relentless competitive ethic.
He held that spot in the league scoring ranks until Saturday night, when the Lakers’ LeBron James passed him for third place during a game in Philadelphia, Bryant´s hometown.
Bryant was the league MVP in 2008 and a two-time NBA scoring champion.
He teamed with Shaquille O´Neal in a combustible partnership to lead the Lakers to consecutive NBA titles in 2000, 2001 and 2002. He went on to win two more titles in 2009 and 2010.
Tracy McGrady said Kobe Bryant told him he ‘wanted to die young and be immortalized’