LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO (KTSM) – Among the millions of people worldwide paying tribute to Kobe Bryant after his sudden passing on Sunday, was Casey Owens.
The New Mexico State men’s basketball director of operations was an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers during the latter years of Bryant’s hall of fame career. Owens remembered the legendary Bryant in an interview with KTSM on Sunday night.
“He was a living icon. All the cliches are true,” Owens said. “He seemed bigger than life and to watch someone at the top of their craft and how he went about his business and competed was incredible.”
Owens recalled his first interaction with Bryant, at training camp one year in Hawaii, when Kobe wanted to see what Owens was all about.
“He was an intellectual. My first training camp with the Lakers, he was sizing me up and asking me questions I knew he knew the answers to see what I knew and I guess I passed the test. He and I were always friendly,” Owens said.
In addition to working with Bryant in training camp, Owens said Bryant took an avid interest in the L.A. Lakers G-League team, of which Owens was the head coach.
“He always knew how we were doing. It was genuine,” Owens said. “He’d know our record. He’d know the players on our team.”
Bryant and eight others were killed in a tragic helicopter crash on Sunday in California. Included among the deceased was Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. The helicopter was en route to Gianna’s basketball game. Bryant was an avid supporter of her hoop dreams.
“You’ve seen everything now about how devoted he was to his family and then basketball-wise, specifically his daughter” Owens said. “He was a big proponent of women’s basketball.”
An 18-time All-Star, Bryant played 20 NBA seasons and won five NBA championships. He is the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history.
“It’s just stunning that he’s gone,” Owens said.
Kobe Bryant was just 41 years old and leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and the couple’s three other daughters.