While it has been more than four years since Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant lost his life in a helicopter crash, his fingerprints can still be found around the NBA today.
Plenty of active NBA players looked up to Bryant before making it to the league, including Brooklyn Nets guard Cam Thomas. The 22-year-old recently spoke about the Lakers legend and brought up Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan in the process.
“He’s like our generation’s Jordan,” Thomas told ESPN of Bryant. “How the other guys liked Jordan, that’s how we are with Kobe.”
Thomas added more.
“I sometimes glance up there when I’m sitting down on the bench,” Thomas said of Bryant’s numbers that are honored at Crypto.com Arena. “Seeing that he has two jerseys retired, it’s always surreal to be in the arena and play there.”
Thomas, who wears No. 24, is enjoying the best season of his NBA career so far. The youngster is averaging 21.4 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game in the 2023-24 campaign while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from beyond the arc.
The former first-round pick seems to be coming into his own in the NBA, giving the Nets something to smile about amid a season that hasn’t been particularly bright for them. Brooklyn is just 20-30 through 50 games this season.
Bryant will have a statue unveiled outside Crypto.com Arena on Thursday. It will be a major event in a loaded day for the Lakers, who will also be balancing the NBA trade deadline and hosting the Denver Nuggets at night.
Thomas and the Nets traveled to Los Angeles to face the Lakers earlier this season and won’t do so again before the end of the campaign. However, the Purple and Gold will face the Nets in Brooklyn next month, giving Thomas another chance to show out against Bryant’s old team.
The Nets have some exciting young pieces, but they clearly still have some work to do in their rebuild before they’re major factors in the Eastern Conference again. Meanwhile, the Lakers are trying to get the most out of their current core, and they’re currently 27-25 on the season while enjoying a three-game winning streak.
The Lakers have won one NBA title (2020) since the end of Bryant’s career. They’d love nothing more than to add to that total.