Hollywood veteran Jack Nicholson is a three-time Oscar winner and 12-time nominee, with more than 70 credits to his name. But on Sunday, he was simply a heartbroken Lakers fan.
Following the sudden death of local hero Kobe Bryant, Nicholson reflected on his relationship with the basketball icon and his home team yesterday in a rare phone interview with CBS Los Angeles. Bryant died early Sunday in a Calabasas helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.
“My reaction is the same as almost all of L.A.,” the actor said. “Suddenly, where everything was solid, there’s a big hole in the wall. I was so used to seeing and talking to Kobe that — it kills you. It’s just a terrible event.”
In L.A., Nicholson is almost as well known for his exuberant presence at Staples Center as he is for his movie performances. For years, the somewhat reclusive celebrity has loyally and passionately supported the Lakers and Bryant courtside, poised to leap off the bench at a moment’s notice in the event of a stellar play or bad call.
“I sat right behind [Bryant’s] jump-shot on the left-hand side,” Nicholson told CBS. “I could see him going up, and I could tell the first instant if it was in.”
The “Shining” star also recalled some fond personal moments between himself and Bryant, including how they met.
“I remember him in totality, how great a player he was,” Nicholson said. “I teased him the first time we met. It was in [Madison Square Garden] in New York, and I offered him a basketball and asked him, did he want me to autograph it for him? (laughs) He looked at me like I was crazy.”
But, Nicholson added, Bryant wasn’t without a sense of humor: “He got all the jokes, that’s for sure.”
Later, Nicholson ironically acknowledged his reputation for shying away from TV interviews, crediting Bryant for respecting his privacy during their friendship despite both of their existences in the public eye.
“When I first talked to him after that first meeting, he called me on the phone and said, ‘Jack, I know you’re not going to want to do this, but they made me ask you,’” he said, referencing an instance in which he was asked to speak about Bryant on camera. “He was doing a documentary or something. And that just speaks to Kobe’s sensitivity.”
Nicholson’s somber sentiments echo those of thousands of Angelenos who have been gathering in droves outside Staples to honor Bryant on his home turf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Cher, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber, Kanye West and Dwayne Johnson are among the many other stars who have also paid tribute to the Lakers legend in the wake of his death.
“We’ll think of him all the time, and we miss him,” Nicholson said.