Yet caddy Joey LaCava managed to keep the news from Tiger Woods, who knew Bryant and whose career for a long time ran parallel with the Laker great.
“I was trying to win the golf tournament,” Woods said immediately after the round. “Joey realised that I was locked in on that and didn’t want to distract me with that type of news.”
“People were yelling, ‘Do it for Mamba.’ Now I understand,” Woods said, referring to Bryant’s nickname. “People yell things all the time, so I was just plodding along, doing my own thing.”
“I grew up a diehard Laker fan. He was part of the most historic franchise in the NBA. Ultimate toughness. Ultimate competitor.”
Before relocating to Florida, Woods lived not far from Bryant just outside Los Angeles.
“I had a house in Newport (Beach). We’d work out together and hang a little bit but when I sold that house I didn’t really see him that often every now and again he’d reach out and I’d reach out to him.”
“I was always getting up early, he’d get up early and we’d work out. He missed being competitive,” said Woods, speaking to media “eight or nine minutes” after learning the news.
‘We’re very similar’
“We really connected on the mental side the prep how much it takes to be prepared. I don’t have to react like he does in my sport. We can take our time, but you still have to pay attention to the details — that’s what he did probably better than any other player in NBA history.
“He paid attention to details, to those little things.
“That’s where he and I really connected. We’re very similar.”
Woods, who is 44, turned professional in August 1996. Bryant, who was 41, was drafted June that year in by the Charlotte before being traded to the Lakers and made his NBA debut in November that year.
“He came in the league and I turned pro more or less the same time. We had our 20-year run together.”
“It’s unbelievable, the reality that he’s no longer here,” said Woods.