"It was tough for me," says the POTM co-host (who built his own athletic career with the NFL) in this clip from Monday's episode, describing Bryant as "someone I respect immensely and someone that just has transcended the game of basketball for me."
Echoing the outpouring of recognition paid not only to Bryant's basketball talents but his kindhearted character and family-oriented values, Cruz goes on to explain why the longtime Los Angeles Lakers star was such an important figure to him. "Kobe Bryant was it for me, like, my entire childhood," he recalls. "Him winning championships, the way he displayed his fatherhood, the way he was just, you know, one of the best players to ever play the game."
Cruz remembers meeting him several times over the years, though one interaction in particular stands out to him now. After injuring his calf, the former New York Giants wide receiver reached out to Bryant via email—who'd recently injured his ankle—for medical recommendations.