Monday marked the beginning of Super Bowl activities in Miami this week, with players taking the podium at Opening Night to speak to the media in anticipation of the game.
But in what is normally a jovial and exciting time in the NFL had a somber cloud hanging over it as the shocking death of Kobe Bryant overshadowed the event and was a topic many players were asked about.
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was among those who was deeply impacted by Bryant’s death. Sherman not only grew up in Compton, Calif. rooting for the Bryant-led Lakers as a child, he had also developed a personal relationship with the NBA legend in recent years.
“It is really sad,” Sherman said. “He was a friend of mine. He was a mentor. He meant a lot to this world. He made a positive impact, and there is nothing that I can say to really quantify his impact on myself and on others.”
Sherman was notified of Bryant's death by GM John Lynch on the team plane on the way to Miami. Lynch wanted to make sure Sherman knew before finding out through the news because he knew the two had grown close.
The news rocked Sherman, as it did many around the country, but the 49ers cornerback also knows there is only one way to turn the page.
“I was really sad yesterday and sad this morning. I was really down. I was in the dumps, and then I thought about what he would tell me,” Sherman said. “He would tell me to stop being a baby and to man up and play and do it in his honor and win this game for him. And that is what we are trying to do. We’re gonna go out there and try to play some dominating ball, just like he wanted. The Mamba Mentality lives on.”
Sherman and Bryant first met at a Nike photo shoot after the Seahawks won the Super Bowl in 2013. He then grew closer to Bryant after suffering an Achilles tear in 2017 — an injury Bryant also had.
Sherman walked off the field the day that injury happened, and called it the "biggest Mamba Mentality moment" of his career.
"I saw [Bryant] do it. I saw him make two free throws and walk off with a torn Achilles," Sherman said. "And once I tore mine, I knew I had to walk off. Like he said before, we’re different animals, but we’re the same beast. We have a lot of the same stuff. I had to be able to walk that off."
As Sherman leaned on Bryant for advice throughout the rehabilitation process, he recalled what Bryant told him: to go out and win another championship, and that there will be hard times to navigate in his comeback.
Sherman has clearly done the latter, now he plans on finishing the job.