Russell Westbrook's homecoming to the Los Angeles Lakers was a dream come true, fulfilling a goal he talked about often with an old friend and mentor in the late Kobe Bryant.
"Yeah, I mean, it hasn't left my head," Westbrook said at his Tuesday introductory press conference when asked if he thought of Bryant while the trade with the Washington Wizards was being finalized. "Things that we talked about, me and him, just the potential of me being able to be a Laker and understanding what that entails. It's just crazy to think about and that'll be with me every time I put that Lakers jersey on."
Westbrook, a Los Angeles native and UCLA star, was among the many NBA stars to express their condolences and Kobe stories in early 2020. Meeting the legendary Laker for the first time playing a pickup game at age 16, Westbrook knew from there he wanted to emulate Bryant's Mamba Mentality at the next level.
"At the time, there was no name for it, but I recognized in him what I always felt in myself," Westbrook wrote. "He became a friend, a brother, a mentor, a teacher, he defended me, he believed in me, and he taught me how to weather the storm. I can go on and on, but I want to thank you for being my idol, & inspiration."
In fact, Westbrook ended up doing a pretty great job of emulating Bryant's unrelenting mentality. Setting the all-time triple-doubles record with the Wizards in May, Westbrook's competitive motor never stops.
Bryant took notice of Westbrook's insatiable drive in a 2015 interview during his last NBA season, only saying his name when asked if any young players remind him of the way he played.
"Westbrook plays mean," Bryant said. "He plays mean like I did, with an aggression."
That's certainly some high praise when Bryant singles you out for emulating his one-of-a-kind mindset. For Westbrook, though, their shared drives only became the start of a great relationship.
"I think that was the initial thing that kind of brought us together, being able to compete and not being able to take nights off," Westbrook said. "But we came to have a greater relationship off the floor as brothers and started talking about other things outside of basketball and things we've been able to do with this game. And to me, that's the most important thing that I've been able to cherish from Kobe that I'll continue to cherish as we move on."