On the final day of the Storm’s first road trip of the season, Seattle lead by four in the final minute at Los Angeles and rookie guard Jewell Loyd stepped up to the free throw line with a chance to extend the lead.
Being in Los Angeles, it would be hard not to become starstruck with the celebrities at courtside. As Loyd walked to the line, she caught the eye of one of those celebrities and he gave her a nod of approval.
She remained cool and hit both shots to put the game away much like the nodding celebrity has done on countless occasions.
That celebrity was Kobe Bryant.
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) June 15, 2015
Anyone who played sports growing up remembers their first idol. A player they loved to watch. Your first jersey was likely their jersey. When you chose your first uniform number, you picked that player’s number. Many idolize a certain player but few are then able to create a relationship with that person. Loyd was one of those few and that person was Bryant. “He gave me a lot of advice and we talked for a little bit [after the game]. He’s been a pretty big mentor of mine,” Loyd said.
— Jewell B Loyd (@jewellloyd) December 26, 2014
Loyd was all of three years old when the Los Angeles Lakers great first broke into the NBA as a 17-year old kid in 1996 and, despite growing up in Chicago towards the end of the Michael Jordan era, it was Kobe that caught her attention.
“My dad’s always been a Lakers fan because of Magic Johnson so we always watched the Lakers,” Loyd said. “For Kobe, he was the youngest one on the court, playing, destroying the game. He didn’t care. He was out there to set the tone early. I grew up watching him.”
Her first basketball jersey was purple and gold and it had the No. 8 on it. Just like Kobe.
She molded her game after his. The stepback jumper, the way she attacks the basket share a strong resemblance to that of Kobe. One of her pregame routines is to watch his incredible 81-point game.
Those skills made her the best high school player in Illinois and, in her senior season, Loyd averaged 24.8 points, 11.9 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 3.2 steals, and 2.2 blocks. This included a 50-point performance with 10 threes against Maine West.
The number she wore: 32 (8+24, Kobe’s first number and Kobe’s second number).
She continued to wear the number at Notre Dame and was named the espnW National Player of the Year earlier this year.
During her final season at Notre Dame, a Twitter conversation sparked a relationship between Loyd and Bryant and it has grown from there.
In April, the Twitter conversation turned into in-person conversations. While Loyd was in Los Angeles for the Wooden Award Presentation, she attended a Lakers game and met Bryant at halftime.
“When you’re sitting down and talking to him, he’s direct and honest and that’s what I expect of him from the interviews and how he talks in interviews,” said Loyd. “We sat down like we’ve been friends forever. We kind of have that basketball connection.”
Loyd, who is just a month and a half into her professional career, struggling early and removed herself from the starting lineup and has started to show the promise that a young Kobe also showed once upon a time
Kobe, who came off the bench for 65 of his first 71 games, averaged 7.6 points and shot 81.7 percent from the line.
Between June 28 and July 8, Loyd averaged 13.6 points off the bench while shooting 45.6 percent from the field and is 23-for-25 from the free throw line (92 percent). This included a career-best 21-point performance against Tulsa while shooting 7-for-12 from the field and 6-for-6 from the line.
— Jewell B Loyd (@jewellloyd) July 8, 2015
On the season, she is averaging 8.8 points, third on the team, and is shooting 83.7 percent from the line.
Bryant has given Loyd a bunch of advice and something that stuck out in her mind was, “Keep your confidence and don’t hold anything back and do something great.”
As Loyd continues her maturation process in her rookie campaign, she wears a reminder of that advice every night: the number 24.
You know, Kobe’s number.