Like so many others who loved and looked up to Kobe Bryant, Pop of the Morning's Victor Cruz was shaken by news of the NBA icon's sudden death over the weekend.
"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.
"Before I even put my foot down, he hit me back with like three names and said, 'If you need anything else, just don't hesitate to reach out to me,'" Cruz continues. "I just thought that, you know, Koby and his busy life and everything he's got going on…for him to take the time to respond to me so quickly and precisely and have those names there for me…I just thought it was amazing."
The co-host finished by acknowledging that Bryant "was an advocate for all sports" and did what he could to take "care" of his fellow athletes, whether they played basketball or not.
The NBA legend was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles Sunday morning, Jan. 26, as was his daughter Gianna "Gigi" Bryant and seven more people. Relive last night's moving tribute performance by Alicia Keys and Boyz II Men during the 2020 Grammy Awards in the full clip above.