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Kobe Bryant didn’t mentor many young players; Anthony Davis was an exception

Kobe Bryant, left, and Anthony Davis talk while sitting on the bench during a game at the 2012 London Olympics.
Kobe Bryant, left, and Anthony Davis talk while sitting on the bench during a game at the 2012 London Olympics.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

During his playing career, there weren’t many young players whom Kobe Bryant mentored. He made an exception for Anthony Davis.

“Anthony was different just because of his curiosity about the game itself,” Bryant said in an interview last fall. “His obvious potential. His ability. But he had a curious nature about him and how he wanted to learn more and more about that game. So I’d gravitate toward that.”

Bryant was one of nine people killed in a helicopter crash Sunday morning along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna; Alyssa Altobelli, Gianna’s teammate on the Mamba basketball team; and her parents John and Keri Altobelli; Christina Mauser, who helped coach the Mamba girls basketball team; and the pilot, Ara Zobayan. Two other passengers haven’t been publicly identified yet.

Davis learned the news along with his teammates Sunday afternoon as they flew back from Philadelphia, where they had played Saturday night.

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“Man this is a tough one for me!” Davis wrote on Instagram on Monday. “You were the first guy to put me under your wing and show me the ins and outs of the league. Had so many great convos about so many things and I will cherish those moments forever. Love you forever, Bean!”

Their relationship started during the 2012 Olympics when Davis became Bryant’s shadow. They would have meals together, stick together at practice and when Bryant met with other elite athletes, the 19-year-old Davis would tag along.

“I think he was there when me and Serena [Williams] had a nice conversation about work ethic and competition and how she processes competitiveness and rivals and all that,” Bryant said. “Sort of comparing notes. He was just sitting there watching.”

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They had that relationship because Davis wasn’t afraid to pursue it.

“I want to get better,” Davis said. “You can’t try to become a better player on and off the floor and be nervous to learn from other guys who’ve done it before you. So I’ve never been nervous to ask a question whether in film, on the court, something I don’t know I’ll ask and hear what people have got to say.”

Bryant respected his courage.

“It was refreshing,” Bryant said. “A lot of guys don’t want to ask questions because they feel like it’s embarrassing or ego thing or blah blah blah.”

The two kept in touch over the years and Bryant developed a relationship with Davis’ family. When the Lakers played in New Orleans, he would make sure to carve out 30 or 40 minutes to spend with the Davis family. The group usually included Davis’ parents and one or both of his sisters.

One thing Bryant wouldn’t do was recruit Davis to the Lakers — or any player for that matter.

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“If I have to say I don’t do that one more time, I’m going to throw up,” Bryant said last fall.

So last year, as Davis waited to see if the Pelicans would trade him to the Lakers, his preferred destination, Bryant didn’t get involved.

“I didn’t want no parts of that,” Bryant said.

Then Davis became a Laker and their conversations resumed.

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