‘Still surreal’: Former and current Spurs players pay tribute to Kobe Bryant year after death

Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven others died in helicopter crash in January 2020

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 11: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers greets Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs before the game at AT&T Center on December 11, 2015 in San Antonio,Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ron Cortes/Getty Images) (Ronald Cortes, 2015 Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The “Mamba Mentality.” It’s a phrase that many current NBA players echo as not only a nod to the late Kobe Bryant, but also what it takes to succeed in the game and in life.

It’s been a year since Bryant his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in California.

But Bryant’s legacy still weighs heavily on the NBA community and many around the world.

Spurs guard and Compton, California native DeMar DeRozan recently reflected on Bryant’s death.

“It’s still surreal, still something that touches everybody,” DeRozan said. “I still can’t believe the situation that happened with everybody in that tragedy. It just sucks. It’s just crazy how time goes by when you realize that it’s been a year. It’s just crazy.”

In 2017, ESPN profiled DeRozan who idolized Bryant growing up in Los Angeles.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst spoke about the lasting impression Bryant left on not only DeRozan but players in the NBA who grew up during the Kobe era.

Windhorst said DeRozan modeled much of his game to be similar to Bryant’s.

But it’s not just DeRozan’s generation of players who grew up idolizing Kobe.

For many, Kobe Bryant was the Michael Jordan of their time.

Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray, a West Coast and Seattle native, recently discussed having a “mamba mentality” mindset to return from an ankle injury he suffered on Friday against Dallas.

“I watched a lot of Kobe stuff and thought what would Kobe do? It’s just an ankle sprain,” Murray said after getting a triple-double in Sunday’s win over Washington. “I amped up with my treatment just so I can get back and help my team.”

The day Bryant passed away, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich paid tribute to Bryant.

“All of us know what a great player he was, but he went beyond great playing,” Popovich said last year. “He was a competitor that goes unmatched, and that’s what made him as a player so attractive to everybody, that focus, that competitiveness, that will to win.”

Popovich said the league and fans felt “a deep sense of loss for what he meant to all of us in so many ways, and so many millions of people loved him for so many different reasons. It’s just a tragic thing. There are no words that can describe how everybody feels.”

A year later, it’s still hard to describe the loss of Bryant and other victims of the crash.

About the Author:

RJ Marquez has been at KSAT since 2010. He's covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area, and is the lead reporter for KSAT Explains. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms. You can see RJ regularly on KSAT Explains and Good Morning San Antonio.