OREM, Utah — An untimely death brought the 20-year friendship between the late Kobe Bryant and his former teammate, Mark Madsen, to an end; now, in the wake of Bryant’s death, Madsen is sharing his memories with the NBA star.
“I do have some team photos of Kobe, right here,” Mark Madsen said pointing to picture frames lining a section of wall.
“Kobe’s right here, right between Dr. Buss and Phil Jackson, and I’m down here in this corner,” Madsen said as he pointed out people in a picture labeled, ‘2000-2001 Los Angeles Lakers.’
Sitting inside of his office at Utah Valley University’s basketball training facility Sunday afternoon -- Mark Madsen, the men’s head basketball coach, reminisced on the good old days.
“A lot of times I said to myself, ‘How am I even in this locker room? How am I even here?’” Madsen smiled. “Because Kobe and Shaq were so talented.”
As Madsen looked over the photographs, he shared stories and smiles.
“A lot of people were nervous to ask Kobe for autographs, including me!” He laughed.
Madsen started his NBA career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000. He spent the next three years playing alongside basketball greats, like Kobe Bryant. Eventually, he left the Lakers to join the Minnesota Timberwolves, but he and Bryant remained friends.
“When I was playing with him, I would see Kobe, I would see my other teammates more than I saw my own family, so you do develop a bond,” Madsen said.
“When you’re on a team, you have great moments, you have hard moments, there were times when Kobe and I were at odds as teammates… Then there were so many great moments where you come together, and you grow closer from those hard moments,” Madsen continued.
Madsen found himself back with the Lakers franchise as an assistant coach during the last couple of years of Bryant’s career.
“I was with him on his very last game in the Staple Center, we played the Utah Jazz that night… I just know Kobe Scored 60,” he smiled.
Madsen said his relationship with Kobe has, “been a great friendship,” but today, Madsen couldn’t help but get emotional.
“I’m doing okay, it’s just… it’s a hard day,” Madsen shook his head. “We just got back from a road trip and someone sent me a Facebook message saying that Kobe had died.”
Bryant passed away Sunday morning in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, California. Investigators said all nine people on-board died, including Bryant’s 13-year-old daughter.
The news of Kobe Bryant’s passing shocked the basketball community and fans across the world — fans in Utah remembered Bryant by setting up flowers outside Vivint Smart Home Arena, home of the Utah Jazz.
“I thought it was a trick or a hoax, or a joke or something,” Madsen said as he wiped a tear off his cheek. “I just thought, it can’t be true.”
The pain brought about by Kobe’s death is still fresh, but mark hopes the world will remember Kobe the way he did.
“Not a lot of people got to see him behind the scenes, but behind the scenes he was a wonderful person,” Madsen said.
As a family man.
“He cared about his family, he cared about his daughters, he cared about his wife,” said Madsen. “That’s the legacy, to me, that Kobe leaves behind is a legacy of family.”
As a friend.
“He helped me become a better player, he helped me have more confidence in myself,” Madsen said.
As a legend.
“I think Kobe brought so much joy, and passion and fun into people’s lives,” said Madsen. “I feel grateful and fortunate just to have been alongside someone like that.”