LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kobe Bryant played in the NBA for 20 years, and he crossed paths with many former UK players.
Tony Delk was drafted the same year as Kobe, and battled the Lakers' star in the Western Conference playoffs.
"When you hear players say, blood sweat and tears, he gave 20 years of that to the NBA," said Delk.
Bryant was only a teenager when he signed his first NBA contract, but Delk says the Black Mamba earned respect by holding his own against the world's best.
"We take out age when you can compete at a high level against high level of competition, and that's what he did early in his career," said Delk.
The former Wildcat and Kobe were both drafted in 1996 by the Charlotte Hornets, just three picks apart.
"I just think about, wow, I could've played with him in Charlotte," said Delk.
But Bryant never suited up for the Hornets, as the Los Angeles Lakers made a draft-day trade for their future icon.
"You have to give Jerry West all the credit for taking a risk and drafting Kobe, and once he drafted him the rest is history," said Delk.
Delk and Kobe faced off a number of times over the next decade, and also once in the playoffs.
Courtesy: Bob Galbrath/Associated Press
In 2000, Delk's Sacramento Kings took the favored Lakers to a winner-take-all Game 5 in the first round.
"We knew it was going to be a difficult series. And when you talk about a fierce competitor, that was Kobe each and every time we faced him," said Delk.
The Lakers won the first of Kobe's five rings that year.
Delk will remember Kobe as much more than a player. He admired his work as a philanthropist, businessman, and most importantly, a father.
"I know as a dad, you want to be in position where someday your daughters decide to be married, you want to walk them down the aisle. And that's something he'll never get the chance to do," said Delk.
Another former UK Basketball great, Derek Anderson, was holding his infant son when he learned his friend was killed.
"And I just held him. I just held him, and man I'm so grateful that I got my two year-old son out of bed. And I just held my boys and I just couldn't believe it," said Anderson.
Like Delk, Anderson shared a special draft day bond with Kobe.
Anderson was drafted in the same position as Kobe, 13th overall, one year apart.
"He didn't see you as a competitor. He saw you as person who worked his way up like he did. We all have a drive to be better. And he saw that, he respected it, and we became good friends," said Anderson.
To Anderson, Kobe's will to win made Sunday's news even more shocking.
"We would all think that he would outlive us. Kobe was that immortal to us," said Anderson. "I felt like I could visualize him holding his daughter in his arms, and being the man the he is, and saying it's gonna be okay."
Anderson says he will take lessons from his friend and make sure that his own kids never forget the Black Mamba.
"His mentality, his drive, his passion. They're going to read his interviews, they're going to watch his interviews. They're gonna say, I see what you mean. He was a competitor on the court all the time," said Anderson.