Canada

For Canadian basketball, Kobe Bryant was both an icon and adversary

Here is a look at Kobe Bryant's relationship with basketball in Canada — both as an inspiration to young Canadian basketball players and a foe to the Raptors and Grizzlies.

NBA great, who died Sunday, inspired Canadian athletes while humbling the country's pro teams

Kobe Bryant, right, and his daughter Gianna were among the nine people who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday. The NBA great was both as an inspiration to young Canadian basketball players and a foe to the country's pro teams. (Elsa/Getty Images)

Kobe Bryant achieved international stardom during his storied NBA career — but his impact on basketball in Canada was particularly unique.

Bryant — who was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas, Calif., along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others — was simultaneously an inspiration to countless Canadian athletes who would go on to professional careers and a tormentor of the country's NBA teams as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Here is a look at Bryant's relationship with basketball in Canada — both as a friend and a foe — as tributes to the late basketball icon continue to come in.

Tormenting Canadian teams

Before the recent success of the Toronto Raptors, yellow jerseys adorned with either the No. 8 or 24 were ubiquitous whenever Bryant came to town. But Bryant's most iconic moment against the Raptors came in Los Angeles in 2006, when he dropped 81 points on Toronto.

Bryant's 81 are the second-most points scored in an NBA game, behind only Wilt Chamberlain's 100 points scored as a member of the Philadelphia Warriors in 1962. The performance is even more stunning due to the fact it came a month after Toronto held him to just 11 points.

Even games at what was then-known as the Air Canada Centre could have been mistaken for Lakers home games due to Bryant's transcendent stardom. And for Raptors fans, who for years were starved for any semblance of celebration, a missed shot at the buzzer by Bryant in 2010 was cause for celebration.

Bryant — who owned a 24-9 record against the Raptors — would go on to finish his career as the third-highest scoring player in league history, a mark that was surpassed by current Laker LeBron James on Saturday.

Watch: Kobe Bryant's last game in Toronto

Kyle Lowry had 27 points as the Toronto Raptors snapped a three-game skid with a 102-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night. In his last NBA appearance in Canada, Kobe Bryant had 21 points for the Lakers. 0:28

But what about Canada's other NBA team, the late Vancouver Grizzlies? Well, Bryant notched his first-career triple-double in 2001 against the team, which later relocated to Memphis.

Feted in Toronto

Bryant was an 18-time NBA all-star during his career, and his final all-star appearance in 2016 was cause for celebration. The festivities were held in Toronto that season, and the weekend for all intents and purposes turned into the Kobe show.

Watch: Kobe Bryant honoured before final NBA All-Star Game

Tribute to Kobe Bryant 6:07

After the video aired in the arena, NBA legend Magic Johnson took the microphone to laud Bryant even further and eventually introduce a second tape of Bryant's moments, with the retiring Los Angeles Lakers great narrating parts of it and other All-Stars offering him words of thanks.

Bryant then addressed the crowd, as they chanted his name at a deafening level. Bryant said he's "been extremely fortunate to play the game I love and be in the NBA for more than half my life."

Bryant, right, hugged fellow Lakers legend Magic Johnson before the 2016 NBA All-Star Game in Toronto. (Getty Images)

He ended his remarks by saying, "Thank you so much — and now I've got to go get loose."

Bryant checked out of the game with just over a minute remaining, leaving to a standing ovation, hugs from players, and more chanting of his name. The West easily defeated the East by a whopping score of 196-173.

Idolized by Canadian players

Throughout his 20-year career, Bryant left his mark on many basketball players whom eventually made it to the NBA — including several Canadians.

Watch: Raptors TV analyst recalls a huge, sometimes polarizing figure in Kobe Bryant

Leo Rautins says Kobe Bryant is 'the player a lot of these young players in the NBA today looked up to.'   7:39

Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray grew up in Kitchener, Ont., idolizing the five-time NBA champion.

Murray, who was drafted seventh overall by the Nuggets in 2016, told the Denver Post that he admired Bryant's famous "Mamba mentality."

"It was his drive to win, it was his never give up on plays, his confidence level in himself and what he could do, his belief in his team, just everything," Murray said.

After learning of Bryant's death, Murray tweeted: "I'm trying to process but I just can't man."

Toronto's Andrew Wiggins has said he watched Bryant's game voraciously as a child and modelled his game after the star. Wiggins, who plays for Minnesota, would wind up scoring on his idol during a game in February 2016.

After knocking down a fadeaway jump shot with Bryant defending, Wiggins — who was drafted No. 1 overall by the Timberwolves in 2014 — turned to him and said: "I got that from you."

The admiration was mutual.

After a game against the Timberwolves in 2014, Bryant said that playing against then-19-year-old Wiggins was "like looking at a reflection of myself 19 years ago."

Joining forces with notable Canucks

Bryant even had a few Canadian teammates during his illustrious career — notably Rick Fox, who won three consecutive titles in Los Angeles with Bryant in the early 2000s.

Fox, a small forward from Toronto, was a solid contributor during the team's title run in 2000 and developed into a key starter for the Lakers' next two championship victories.

Toronto's Rick Fox, right, won three NBA titles with Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. (Mark J. Terrill/The Associated Press)

Reserve centre Robert Sacre, a one-time member of the Canadian men's national basketball team, also played for the Lakers during the latter part of Bryant's career.

But the highest-profile Canadian to share the court with Bryant was two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.

Injuries to both Bryant, left, and Steve Nash limited their time together as teammates, but their playoff matchups as foes were memorable. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

While a member of the Phoenix Suns, Nash and Bryant faced off three times in the NBA playoffs, with the Suns winning two series. At the end of his career, Nash elected to team up with Bryant in Los Angeles, but injuries to both players limited their on-court time together.

"My heart is broken for Kobe and his family," Nash tweeted on Sunday. "I'll never forget the battles but what I really admired was the father he was to his girls.

"Rest In Peace old friend with your angel Gianna."

Watch: Fans pay tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant at new mural

Fans laid flowers and lit candles to pay tribute to Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter who were among 9 people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday. 0:48

About the Author

Benjamin Blum

Senior writer

Benjamin Blum is a senior writer with CBC News and previously worked with CBC Sports in the same capacity. He holds a master's of journalism from the University of King's College in Halifax.

With files from CBC's Justin Li and The Associated Press

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