CHARLOTTE – Julius Randle "adored the floor (Kobe Bryant) went on", from his childhood idolization to the establishment of a relationship during and after they were teammates with the Lakers.
The Knicks striker was visibly emotional against Brooklyn on Sunday, hours after the basketball legend, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, was killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California.
Randle spoke for the first time since the Tuesday morning tragedy before the Knicks' game against the Hornets in the Spectrum Arena.
"For me, he was everything, brother," said Randle after the Knicks morning shootaround. “That was my youth hero when I was growing up. It is a very unfortunate situation for me, but I cannot imagine what his family is going through, all the families that are involved. So my prayers are with them. He's a mamba, so that's all. "
The 25-year-old Randle posted childhood photos of himself with Bryants number 8, one of two numbers (at 24) that the Lakers retired to honor.
Randle was drafted seventh overall in Los Angeles from Kentucky in the 2014 NBA draft and played two seasons with Bryant, who called himself The Black Mamba during his 20-year career. He remembered Kobe as an "open book" that regularly gave advice on "so much more" than basketball.
"That meant everything to me. Just to know that if I can text him or call him, he'll pick up the phone, "said Randle." He's like a big brother to me. For me, as I said, it was all because I grew up when I adored him. You can't say anything bad about him. I adore the floor on which he walked. Being in LA and building a relationship with him was incredible for me. "
Nets star Kyrie Irving was too upset to play on Sunday and left the garden before refusing, while Knicks striker Marcus Morris later said he shouldn't have played the game.
Randle, who wore the "GOAT 24 Rest easy bro" and "Legends Live Forever 8" messages on his sneakers, scored 22 points with 15 rebounds in the Knicks' 110-97 victory over the nets. Randle missed two games earlier this month because his grandmother died.
"I don't know, man. It was honestly tough for me," said Randle. "Frankly, it was a tough month, my grandmother and this. It was hard. Difficult to honestly find the motivation to play. Frankly, everything I did was because of him. He really set the bar for me. It was certainly a difficult task.
"I don't know when I can make peace with that. I'm not at the moment. It still isn't really real to me. It's not about me, man. It's about these families. I feel bad for these families. It really is for me. "
The Texas-born American added that he had plans to visit Bryant when the Knicks were in Los Angeles earlier this month, but they couldn't meet due to planning conflicts.
Randle has often quoted Bryant and talked to him about the importance of paternity and other extrajudicial issues. He married his wife Kendra when he was 22 and has a tattoo with the image of their three-year-old son Kyden on their arms.
"I have so many stories to tell, so many things that I learned from him," said Randle. "You grew up idolizing someone. You don't really know what to expect when you meet him for the first time. It was all I expected and more. It's crazy.
“The GM here (in Charlotte), Mitch Kupchak, was my GM in LA. He always told me that he watches everything (Kobe) does. That's exactly what I did. I watched his every move. I could go on forever what I can take from him and learn from him. For me, I will only pray for his family. It is not about me. He has three beautiful daughters he has, a beautiful caring woman. There are a lot of families committed to such a tragic, tragic cause. "