LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kyrie Irving #2 of the Cleveland Cavaliers are seen after the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 10, 2016 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — Kobe Bryant made his imprint on the NBA as a player during his 20-year Hall of Fame career, but he also left a lasting legacy as a mentor throughout the game of basketball.

Kyrie Irving feels blessed to have benefited from the guidance of the late Los Angeles Lakers legend. And on the eve of the three-year anniversary of Bryant’s tragic passing with his daughter Gigi and seven other passengers in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California, Irving reflected on how influential Bryant was while the No. 1 pick of the 2011 NBA Draft sought his footing in the league.

“Kobe as the man was very inspirational,” Irving told Bally Sports after the Brooklyn Nets’ 137-133 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. “Very loving, compassionate. Always had an open heart for those that wanted to follow his knowledge, wisdom.

“He always wanted to pass on what he learned. I was just more than grateful that I could have him as a mentor for as many years that I did.”

Bryant, who starred in the Philly suburb of Ardmore at Lower Merion High before being drafted 13th overall in 1996, retired in 2016 as a five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star. After retirement, he was just as productive, starting a production company, Granity Studios, and winning an Academy Award for his 2017 short film, “Dear Basketball.” He also created books to inspire children with “The Wizenard Series.”

More importantly, Bryant prioritized his family after his playing days, dedicating time to his wife Vanessa and their four daughters. “Shoutout to Vanessa and all the girls,” Irving said. “They’re very strong, so I have to be strong as well, and we just want to carry his legacy forward.”

Basketball remained a passion for Bryant, who in 2018 opened the Mamba Sports Academy, a training facility that housed workouts for NBA and WNBA players. It’s also where he got to coach youth players, including Gigi and her AAU team.

“That’s what it’s really about,” Irving said. “Him as a spirit is eternal. He’s everywhere right now. Gigi is everywhere, and all of the people that transitioned that day is helping us out. So they’re never far, so it’s constant remembrance. I’m grateful that I got to spend time with him and learn from him as a man.”

Irving said he chooses to remember Bryant for the humanitarian that his mentor was.

“Him as a player, I could go on and on,” Irving said. “So shoutout to Bean Bryant. I love you more than life itself, and I miss you a lot. Just praise up to you and Gigi.”

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