Just as the San Francisco 49ers were boarding their plane to Miami, Fla. for Super Bowl LIV, tragedy struck the sports world. Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter Gianna Maria Bryant and seven others tragically lost their lives in a helicopter accident. At Super Bowl Opening Night, members of the 49ers shared how Bryant impacted their lives.
"Kobe, I think was amazing to everyone," Kyle Shanahan explained. "I think it's affected everyone in California a ton, everyone in the country and everyone in the world. It shows how much he meant to everyone."
Cornerback Richard Sherman, who grew up in Compton, Calif., said Bryant had a lasting influence on his life. Whether it was as a player who looked up to as a young athlete or a shoulder to lean on during his Achilles injury in 2017, Sherman is a prime example of the 'Mamba Mentality' living on in the 49ers locker room.
"I guess the biggest 'Mamba Mentality' moment of my career was getting up from a torn Achilles and walking off the field," Sherman said. "I saw him do it. I saw him make two free throws and walk off with a torn Achilles. And once I tore mine, I knew I had to walk off. Like he said before 'We're different animals but the same beast'. We're built up of a lot of the same stuff and I have to be able to walk that off."
One of the 49ers team captains, George Kittle, plays with a tough tenacity every single gameday. He's a monster with the ball in his hands and when he's asked to open up running lanes for the running game, but all of that might have been different without the influence Bryant had.
"Other than my parents, Kobe was the reason I played sports," Kittle said. "Just his mindset, the 'Mamba Mentality.' I wore the No. 24 in high school, my freshman and sophomore year, because of him. I wore Kobe Bryant basketball shoes because of Kobe Bryant. Every time I laced up my basketball shoes I felt like I had a little part of Kobe Bryant with me. I had his jumper. I had his fadeaway. The amount of hours I spent practicing that fadeaway from the corner and I never made it, but I tried and I always thought I was Kobe. He's an icon. He was a hero of mine. The world's not a better place without him. I think the impact that he has. He's going to change a lot just with his life. I'm definitely sad and it just sucks honestly."
Kittle showed off his 'Mamba Mentality' on numerous occasions this season, most notably when he carried three members of the New Orleans Saints on his back, fighting and clawing his way to set up the game-winning field goal in Week 14.
And it wasn't just his work ethic, drive and talent that inspired. For some, Bryant served as an example of how to navigate the media spotlight.
"He was absolutely an inspiration," Kyle Juszczyk said. "He was the ultimate grinder. Anytime he spoke he always had extreme class. Always had good things to say. So definitely an inspiration."
"He's one of the greats," Emmanuel Sanders shared. "Definitely a legend of basketball. To lose him it was devastating."
Now for the 49ers there's only one thing left to do, finish the job on Super Bowl Sunday.
"I was I was kind of down, I was in the dumps and then I just thought about what he would tell me," Sherman said. "'Stop being a baby and man up and play it and do it in his honor and win this game for him.' That's what we're going to try to do, we're going to go out there and try to play some dominating ball, just like he wanted, the 'Mamba Mentality' still lives on."