JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The shockwaves of Kobe Bryant’s death continue to ripple around the world for fans and those who knew him alike.
Andrae Russell is a Meridian, Mississippi native whose career path led him to Los Angeles, where he developed a special friendship with the late basketball superstar.
“Man, Kobe was a phenomenal guy and it’s a shame that a disaster has to happen. You lose somebody and then you really realize, ‘Wow, I didn’t realize how amazing he was,’” said Russell.
Russell is a Los Angeles radio personality from Meridian, Mississippi, who has also been the voice of the L.A. Lakers and music coordinator for the team for decades.
He said, “I had the honor to say I did Kobe’s first pro-game. I was the public announcer for that. I think he had about 36-points or so and from that night I said this guy’s going to be a star.”
Russell said he met Bryant when the 17-year-old first stepped off the bus in Los Angeles and he offered the teen some sage advice.
“Hey man, I need to tell you something right now. I said, I work for the team, blah, blah, blah, but it’s some groupies over here already trying to get with you and they’re 30-something years old. You’re a teenager. You don’t need to be dealing with them. You understand what I’m saying? He looked at me like I was crazy and then I said it twice. I said, you understand what I’m saying? He said, I understand. I said okay. Since that moment we’ve been tight. That was my guy.” said Russell.
Russell said he and Bryant remained friends until the end and proudly watched him develop into not only a hard-charging, superstar basketball player, but a first class man.
Andrae Russell said, “Once he started to have kids, that softened him up a lot and he really became a different person once he had the first daughter, then the second daughter. You could see a change in him”
He continued, “He was just a good dude, man, and every time I saw him, he would joke. We joked around about football a lot, so one of my fondest memories was how I would give him a hard time about the Philadelphia Eagles. That was his team. He loved the Eagles.”
“I’ll be honest with you guys. I haven’t cried this much. I don’t ever remember in my life crying this much. I guess because just how heartbreaking it is with his child being on the plane with him and things like that and the way it all happened with all of the poor souls being on the helicopter as well. I can’t stop crying and here we are a few days into it, so it’s really heart-wrenching.”