“He’s Just One Of Those People I Just Gravitated Towards” Thunder Rookie Wing Jalen Williams, One Of Kobe’s Biggest Fans In The NBA – BlackSportsOnline
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“He’s Just One Of Those People I Just Gravitated Towards” Thunder Rookie Wing Jalen Williams, One Of Kobe’s Biggest Fans In The NBA

Today marks 3 years since NBA Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant has passed away in a tragic helicopter accident along with 8 others including his daughter Gigi.

There isn’t really a day that goes by that Kobe’s name isn’t brought up in some way or fashion in NBA talks because his impact on the game of basketball will live on forever. He has touched so many generations of fans and players with a legacy that reaches even the youngest fans and players.

Kobe gave us so many great memories throughout his 20 year career so it’s no surprise that he’d have so many fans of all ages.

For most players and fans now though, they tend to favor either LeBron James, Steph Curry, or Kevin Durant and sometimes Kobe gets a little disrespected in the mix. Not all the time though because Kobe is still a player favorite for some like Thunder rookie wing Jalen “J-Dub” Williams who is one of Kobe’s biggest fans in the league.

But why? How is someone that retired when J-Dub was 15 his favorite player when his prime years were long gone? It wouldn’t be shocking if J-Dub’s favorite was Lebron, KD, Steph, or any other great player in the league right now because those guys are the players he saw in their prime. If he was from LA, Kobe would make sense but he’s not.

So why Kobe?

The answer though, is pretty simple.

“He’s just somebody I grew up watching you know?” Williams said when asked why Kobe instead of Lebron, Steph, or KD.

“I’ve been a huge Laker fan since I was little, obviously, you know, not now. But you know, just growing up that was who I watched every day and he’s just one of those people that I think I just gravitate towards and just being young and coming up on the hoop scene. That was kind of my biggest inspiration. I did the sleeve and had all the Kobe’s growing up so he was just somebody I gravitated towards because his work ethic was dope, and he’s just a really cool dude.”

Jalen Williams was born in Denver, Colorado and moved to Arizona when he was 7 years old so being in a state that has a team [Phoenix Suns] in the same conference as Kobe and the Lakers, J-Dub got to see a lot of Laker games and watch plenty of Kobe when growing up and It all started in Las Vegas.

When he was 7, Williams’ parents surprised him and his siblings with a trip Las Vegas to see a Team USA, the Redeem Team, scrimmage featuring none other than Kobe who was at the height of his popularity at the time.

“That was cool, to see him there. He came by the stands to say hi to the crowd and I got to watch them workout” Williams says remembering his first Kobe memory. “‘ll never forget that. It was really cool to me.”

That was the time the Kobe fandom started for Williams. At a time Kobe was in NBA Finals, winning his first and only MVP, Finals MVPs, Allstar game MVPs, All NBA, and All NBA Defense. It was a great time to be a Kobe fan and an even better time for that to be the start.

J-Dub got to see the growth in Kobe’s game. From number 8 to number 24. He got to see those prime years of elite skill and work ethic that helped turn the Lakers into champions again. The start of ‘Mamba Mentality.’ Just like any other Kobe fan, the Mamba Mentality is something J-Dub not only knows, but something he applies to his every day life. It’s not something he just heard Kobe say means more than basketball to him. It’s not just something he heard Kobe say and just started saying it himself because he’s a fan. It’s something that has helped him in his everyday life.

“I think especially now that I’m getting older.” Williams says “It’s just… you know, you get what you put in. And I really kind of harped on that and whatever I’m doing, whether it’s basketball or you know, something in my free time, just do it to my full ability and I think don’t be afraid to fail or make mistakes and just kind of learn from everything that you do.”

That’s the mentality that made him a fan. A huge fan. That is a reason why he wanted to be just like Kobe instead of someone else. He wore 24 in college because of Kobe and now he’s wearing number 8 in the NBA because of him. Even though there was a lot of conversation among fans and some players saying the NBA retiring both 8 and 24 throughout the league. There were even some players, Spencer Dinwiddie, Terrence Ross, Mason Plumlee just to name a few, that informally retired Kobe’s numbers by changing theirs from 8 and 24.

But J-Dub never thought about not wearing Kobe’s number in the NBA even though he never wanted to wear 24 in the NBA saying “I definitely didn’t want to wear 24 coming into the league. But yeah, 8 just seemed like a pretty cool way to kind of honor Kobe.”  while also being signed to Adidas which is the brand Kobe first started with when he came into the league.

“Obviously signed to Adidas” Williams continued “and I’ve been wearing the Crazy 8s a lot now so I think that was a pretty creative way to do it soI think that fit really well.”

He wears Kobe’s number and even wears the shoes Kobe once wore on a NBA floor. That’s one of the coolest things about the connection between the two. Wearing your idols shoes on the very floor he once played on is another level of coolness that not many athletes get to reach and J-Dub knows that. “It’s surreal. I think about every time I kind of put one on” Williams says.

“I just were the ones he wore for the dunk contest. So you know, it’s kind of just like a full circle moment. Obviously I was wearing a bunch of Nike Kobe’s coming in but it’s cool that I’ve been able to kind of transition into stuff that I never thought I’d wear.”

Going from wearing some version of Kobe’s in little league to AAU and high school to college to now the NBA. It’s one sure way to make sure Kobe’s legacy lives on.

He plays with Kobe’s number on his jersey, he wears the same shoes Kobe once wore, and even has a Kobe tattoo like many other Kobe fans. It’s another way to honor Kobe and the impact he has left. “It was my first ever tattoo and I was meaning to get it.” Williams told BSO. “Obviously, before he had passed away because I just, you know, moved out of my parents house and going to college. My mom’s like, I don’t care what you do now. Then he passed away so it’s just more of like a tribute tattoo kind of just my favorite player on my leg.”

At the heart of things, J-Dub is a Kobe fan. He just plays in the NBA. Like the rest of us Kobe fans, he has his favorite moments, best game, and thoughts on what the Kobe statue should be. There are a lot of moments to choose from because Kobe gave us so many memories throughout the years but there are certain ones that stick out. Could choose from his 81 point game, his final game scoring 60 points, or any of the games where he willed his team to the playoffs in 2013 before he tore his achilles.

But the moment and game that sticks out the most J-Dub is game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. “They played at home. And he didn’t shoot really well, actually. But just the way he was able to kind of control the game. You know, he always has that narrative around him that he doesn’t pass.” Williams said reminiscing about his favorite Kobe moment.

Kobe shot 6-24 from the field and 0-6 from 3. One of his worst shooting performances of the season but it was one of his better games of the season. The defense he played, throwing his body around to get every rebound he could. Kobe did whatever he could to make sure his team got the win and that’s the thing J-Dub remembers the most. So it’s also no surprise that he thinks a moment from that game should be in consideration for the Kobe statue.

“I think it should be him pulling from the chest after you know, after the Suns game. So I think that’s going to be it’s either that or the finger point after the 81. I think those are the two but I don’t know, he’s got a lot. You could even do the one with him standing on the scores table. They really can’t go wrong. He has a lot of iconic moments as long as they don’t do something boring, I think it’ll be good.”

All of those good moments for J-Dub to witness. All of the greatness Kobe displayed on the court year after year. The will to do anything to win but if it came down to it, J-Dub thinks he’d beat Kobe one on one but it’d depend one which Kobe. Although he thinks number 24 Kobe is better because he’s more polished, less flash, and had better footwork and more of an all around player, he’d rather play number 8 Kobe because of all of the youthful energy. That Kobe that was much more athletic but that’s exactly what J-Dub wants.

Being a fan, that’s the answer Kobe would want to hear. Kobe would of course say J-Dub is crazy because he’d think he would win but he for sure respect J-Dub for saying he’d win and he knows that. That’s one of the many things we can remember about Kobe. The way he approached the game and life. The way he would respect anyone that would come at him the same way he would come at them. So many memories and lessons of Kobe on the court that every fan could reminisce for hours.

None of those are what J-Dub will remember Kobe though. “I think, like the subtle memories of him and his family.” Williams said thinking of the how he’d always remember Kobe. “You know, because it’s something that we don’t really didn’t really get to see a lot of and I think we kind of took for granted just because of how dedicated he was to the game. Nobody really sees how good of a father he was until now, obviously. So I think that’s something that I think was kind of stuck with me, how close he held his family.”

So on the day that marks 3 years since his passing, lets not be sad about the legend Kobe Bryant being gone. That’s the easy thing to do because thinking about the day he passed away, how he never got to give his Hall of Fame speech, or get to see his daughters grow up can come natural. But, thinking about the negative isn’t something Kobe would want. He’d want us to remember all the good times he gave us. We can, and should, think about his family and loved ones that were left behind because they need our thoughts and prayers but we also have to think about those happy memories.

So lets reminisce about all of the great moments he gave us and the great family man he showed us he was. Let’s remember the lasting impact he left on all of the fans like Jalen Williams.