WNBA legend Lisa Leslie, who met Kobe Bryant before his rookie season with the Lakers, sat down with CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King to discuss Bryant’s enduring legacy in a wide-ranging interview. Leslie and Bryant became rising stars in Los Angeles basketball at the same time, and developed a close friendship.
“He will be missed but he will not be forgotten, that’s for sure,” Leslie told King.
Asked why Bryant’s passing evoked such a strong response from people around the world, Leslie said: “You rooted for him or you didn’t. But that was an emotion evoked either way.”
Editor’s note: CBS News has updated the original story with the following full transcript of King’s interview with Leslie that aired on “CBS This Morning.”
Gayle King: What do you remember about when you first met him?
Lisa Leslie: I would go to the house, and he’d be like, “Lis, Lis.” I’m like, “What?” “Lis, come here, come here, come here. Watch this. Watch this.” So, he’s always watching Jordan videos, right.
Michael Jordan videos?
Michael Jordan. He’s clicking, the pausing. “Look, look, look, Lis, watch, watch.”
So, he studied Michael Jordan?
Beyond studied. He would obsess over watching these videos. He imitated everything Jordan did.
If you watch Kobe’s interviews, the way he talks, the way he moves his mouth, when he licks his lip, when he puts his tongue out when he played. Everything was about Michael Jordan. That’s the player that meant everything to him. And he wanted to be great. Not good but great, like Michael Jordan.
So when people say “arrogant” and “aloof,” that’s not what you remember about him?
Well, there is arrogance.
There is arrogance?
Absolutely. But the arrogance is not in everyday life. The arrogance is in the world of basketball.
On the basketball court, you’re saying.
On the basketball court you’re not my friend and I’m not your friend. And it’s either kill or be killed… I’m going to attack you. I’m going for the jugular at all times.
What does Kobe’s death, what does his loss mean to women’s basketball?
You know, he was really making change.
The mindsets of other men more than anybody else. He’s giving us – he’s validating us, if you will. These young ladies who are out there playing. The fact that he’s enjoying and being entertained by great basketball. It made other men feel, I’m hoping, like, “What is this about?” Like this is – it’s good.
I’ve heard that sometimes he would spend more time at WNBA games now than he would at the Lakers games. True?
Well, it’s true, but I think it’s also because Gigi wanted to see certain players, and she was into it. And he talked about just. I remember seeing him. He was like, “Lis, like, she got it.” She got it.
It’s tough, Lisa, looking at the pictures of him and Gigi together playing basketball, sitting on the sidelines. It really does take your heart and rip it out when I see those pictures.
Yes. We know what Kobe’s accomplished. But Gigi didn’t have the full opportunity to do that. Because you just know that she had the mentality. Mambacita was gonna make it. She was gonna be in the WNBA.
It’s been said that his legacy is complicated because of a sexual assault charge, which was dismissed in 2003, 2004. Is it complicated for you as a woman, as a WNBA player?
It’s not complicated for me at all. Even if there’s a few times that we’ve been at a club at the same time, Kobe’s not the kind of guy – never been, like, you know, ‘Lis, go get that girl, or tell her or send her this.’ I have other NBA friends that are like that. Kobe was never like that. I just never, have ever seen him being the kind of person that would do something to violate a woman or be aggressive in that way. That’s just not the person that I know.
But Lisa, you wouldn’t see it, though. As his friend, you wouldn’t see it.
And that’s possible.I just don’t believe that. And I’m not saying things didn’t happen. I just don’t believe that things didn’t happen with force.
Is it even a fair question to talk about it considering he’s no longer with us and that it was resolved? Or is it really part of his history?
I think that the media should be more respectful at this time. It’s like if you had questions about it, you had many years to ask him that. I don’t think it’s something that we should keep hanging over his legacy. I mean, it went to trial.
Yeah, well, the case was dismissed because the victim in the case refused to testify. So, it was dismissed.
And I think that that’s how we should leave it.
Why do you think people are so deeply affected, in many cases, by a man they did not know?
I really think it’s the idea that you rooted for him or you didn’t, but that was an emotion evoked either way.
You know what I keep thinking Lisa, it was probably just another ordinary day for them. And then in seconds, your life is forever changed.
Forever changed. It reminded about the quote about joy and sorrow are inseparable. And it’s when joy is awake, sorrow is asleep. And it’s just that. Like, sorrow has been awakened in my life, in their lives – in the world’s life.