It is not normal for NBA players to wear another team’s gear, but Houston Rockets All-Star Russell Westbrook had a good reason. Westbrook wore Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jersey while on the bench for the Rockets-Thunder Game 4 matchup as a way to honor the late superstar.
Many NBA players are honoring Bryant on August 24 (8.24) as the unofficial Kobe Bryant holiday, a nod to both of his former jersey numbers. After Bryant’s death, Westbrook was asked about what he learned from the Lakers legend.
“I know if Kobe was here, he’d tell me to go out and compete at the highest level,” Westbrook said, per USA Today. “That’s what I’m going to do each and every night, and make sure I leave it on the floor for him. In his honor, his family, his daughter, and those on the plane, as well.”
Westbrook Continues to Deal With a Quad Injury
The Rockets are hoping Westbrook will be wearing a Houston jersey sooner rather than later but have not released a timeline for when they expect the guard to return. Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni believes Westbrook is “getting closer” to returning.
“Today, he’s doing great and he’s really working hard,” D’Antoni explained, per The Athletic’s Kelly Iko. “Feels like he’s getting closer. He’s living in the training room and putting movement into where he can be 100 percent.”
Westbrook Called Bryant a ‘Friend, Brother, Mentor & Teacher’
After Bryant’s death, Westbrook took to Instagram to post a lengthy message about his relationship with The Black Mamba. Westbrook shared that he realized he wanted to emulate Bryant’s “Mamba Mentality” after playing against him in a pick-up game.
“…I am devastated about the passing of Kobe & Gigi, on every level,” Westbrook said. “I met Kobe when I was 16 at UCLA playing against him in a pick up game. He played like it was the NBA finals. From that point on, I decided that I wanted to emulate his Mamba mentality. At the time, there was no name for it, but I recognized in him what I always felt in myself. 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. I will pray for you and your family everyday just as I do my own. I love you Kobe. My heart and prayers also go out to the other families involved in last weeks accident. #RIPKobe #RIPGigi”
Westbrook is not the only Rockets player who was inspired by Bryant on and off the court. James Harden admitted to the Houston Chronicle that he “think[s] of him a lot.”
“So, I think of him a lot, man,” Harden noted. “Obviously, we all miss him. He was like a model to me. I looked up to him as a role model when I was younger, growing up in LA. Then, as he got older, on his way out in the league, he became a real mentor outside of basketball, in the business world. That’s kind of where our relationship really grew.”