As a European kid, Frank Ntilikina wasn’t enamored with Kobe Bryant at first blush. Too cocky.
It took a few years for the Frenchman to appreciate Bryant as an icon — with his dreams realized when he met him on the Nike campus in Oregon after his rookie year.
“It’s funny because first, it’s not that I didn’t like him, but I wasn’t a big fan because of his attitude, you know?,’’ Ntilikina said after Sunday’s emotional game, played hours after the icon’s death. “But when you grow up and you know more about the game, you realize stuff, like you’ve got nothing but respect for this guy.
“When I was grown enough to understand, I just didn’t stop watching his tapes, his documentary and everything he was also off the court, the type of person he was. Yeah, he was just a killer, a killer. He was one of the best that ever played this game. For everything I said, like I how I was studying him, what he did allowed me to improve, but also as a man. I’m thankful.’’
Ntilikina played with a heavy heart, knowing Bryant helped make the NBA what it is today. And made him want to be here.
“Somebody I saw that made me and millions and millions of kids dream to be in this position one day, it’s really, really, really tough,” Ntilikina said. “First and foremost, I want to give my thoughts and prayers to his family, so everybody that was in that helicopter, rest in peace. I’m just so thankful, for what he did for the game and the person he is, that was invested 100 percent into the game and the things he loved, the game, his family. He gives young kids lessons, a lot of lessons. I’m thankful.”
As a Nike guy, Ntilikina, who scored 11 points in the Knicks’ win, was in Portland in 2018 and got to talk to Bryant for the first time.
“[Was] with a couple of players,’’ Ntilikina said. “At a couple practices, he gave us advice; we had the chance to talk to him. I’m thankful.’’
While everyone appeared heartbroken, Knicks forward Kevin Knox (14 minutes, four points) may have been shaken more than most. His younger brother, who is in high school, is named Kobe after the now-deceased Lakers legend. … The Knicks released a formal statement on Bryant: “The Knicks join with the entire NBA community to mourn today’s sudden and tragic accident that claimed several innocent lives, including NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his young daughter, Gianna. We are heartbroken at this incomprehensible loss of life, and send our thoughts and prayers to Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, the Bryant family and the Lakers during this difficult time.” … The Knicks shot 53.3 percent. … Dennis Smith Jr. did not play for a second consecutive game. … Mitchell Robinson had his best game in two weeks (12 points on 6 of 6 shooting) before fouling out.
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