ORLANDO, Fla. – Eddie Jackson was shocked and deeply saddened when he learned Sunday that former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant—a basketball player the Bears safety idolized—had died in a helicopter crash just outside Los Angeles.
Jackson was in the NFC locker room preparing to play in the Pro Bowl at Camping World Stadium in Orlando when the news broke.
“I guess somebody looked at their phone and then they said it,” Jackson said. “I was like, ‘What?’ At first it didn’t sound real.
“That’s my favorite basketball player. I grew up watching Kobe. My first basketball jersey was a Kobe Bryant jersey. I’ve got his high school basketball jersey as well. I kind of felt hurt about it. It was surreal. It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t sound right, just saying it. It’s sad.”
Bryant, who was 41, reportedly was one of nine people who died in the helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif. One of his four daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, was also among the victims. Bryant and Gianna apparently were on their way to her travel basketball game.
Bryant played his entire 20-year NBA career with the Lakers from 1996-2016, entering the league directly out of Lower Merion High School in Philadelphia. He won five NBA championships, was selected to 18 All-Star teams and was a 15-time member of the All-NBA Team.
Although Jackson grew up in Florida, he idolized Bryant mostly because of the Lakers star’s character, work ethic and mentality.
“You just hear how hard he worked,” Jackson said. “Nothing came easy. He worked for everything. He was the first-guy-in, last-guy-out type of mentality. That’s just how he was. I kind of cherish that and really looked up to that. Us being back home and having these types of idols, guys we idolized as kids, he was one for me.”
Bryant’s shocking death cast a pall over the Pro Bowl, which was won by the AFC 38-33. “It threw your vibe off,” Jackson said.
“It was kind of unbelievable, but guys were able to make it through,” said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who represented the Bears along with Jackson and special-teams standout Cordarrelle Patterson. “It was sad, kind of one of those feelings like, ‘Is that really true?'”
Jackson revealed that players from both teams were discussing Bryant’s death throughout the Pro Bowl. After two sacks by Packers outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith, a group of NFC defenders paid homage to Bryant by mimicking his famous fadeaway jump shot.
“Everybody was just in shock,” Jackson said. “It doesn’t sound real. Kobe is one of the guys you feel like is going to be around for a very, very, very long time. The world works in mysterious ways.
“It’s just hard sitting here talking about him. And I didn’t know him personally. That was one of the guys I really wanted to meet and I don’t really want [to meet] too many people. But that was definitely one of the guys at the top of my list that I would love to get a chance to meet. I wasn’t able to watch him play in person. Condolences to his family. It’s just crazy.”
Jackson was, and will continue to be, inspired by Bryant.
“That mentality,” Jackson said. “Just being able to compete. I feel like I don’t want nothing handed to me. He was a prime example of that. He didn’t want nothing handed to him. He worked hard.
“We just tried to follow in his footsteps. Even though he played basketball, the type of legacy that he left behind, that’s something that I take pride in. I want to be remembered as one of the greats—jersey retired, Hall of Fame, all those types of things. To see him go at a young age, it’s just sad. It’s really sad.”
Other current and former Bears shared their thoughts about Bryant on social media: