Russell Westbrook says he’ll honor Kobe Bryant by ‘playing for him and through him’ in Lakers uniform

As a basketball player growing up in Los Angeles in the late 1990s and early 2000s, it was impossible not to idolize and emulate Kobe Bryant on the court. It was no different for Russell Westbrook, who starred for Leuzinger High School and later went on to play two seasons at UCLA, later saying during his introductory press conference with the Los Angeles Lakers that he always wished that he could play for his “home team.”


After a circuitous path starting in Oklahoma City, with brief stops in Houston and Washington, Westbrook’s dream has finally come true. Not only is he thrilled to be a member of the Lakers organization, but Westbrook is also proud to don the same uniform as Bryant, whose jersey numbers were retired by the Lakers in December of 2017 before his tragic death in February of 2020.

“That is something I think about daily. Coming into the gym, you come in here, you look up in the practice facility, you see 8 and 24, and I know he is looking down and making sure that I need to do what I need to do,” Westbrook told Spectrum SportsNet. “And that’s the only thing I could think about is knowing, being in this uniform, understanding the impact I can have of being home and being a Laker and creating a legacy not just for myself but for my kids, for the community of Los Angeles, for the people here. I’m gonna make sure I just do my part in going out and playing for him and through him as I complete in this uniform.”

Westbrook has endured plenty of criticism about his game over the years, but nobody can question the passion and energy he brings to the floor on a nightly basis. In 2015, Bryant was asked whether any current players shared the same “fire” and “passion” that he displayed during his NBA days. His response? Russell Westbrook.

“Westbrook plays mean. He plays mean like I did — with an aggression,” Bryant said. “Much the way I played.”

Following Byrant’s death, Westbrook shared that he played against the Hall of Famer for the first time at the age of 16, and immediately decided to “emulate his Mamba Mentality” on and off the court.

“I recognized in him what I always felt in myself,” Westbrook wrote on Instagram. “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.”

Westbrook hopes that by coming home and joining forces with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and a host of veteran teammates, he will be able to bring the Lakers another championship, and honor Bryant in the process.

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