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Bengals Remember Kobe

Kobe Bryant: 1978-2020.
Kobe Bryant: 1978-2020.

On Monday Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard landed, in of all places, Los Angeles, to consult with his people on the next steps of his Dennard Difference Foundation. But since he found himself in Kobe Bryant's city he wondered how far he could have gone.

"What did he win last year, an Oscar?" Dennard said just before ducking into a meeting. "What was he going to do next? He had a lot going on in his life after basketball."

Bryant's death over the weekend rocked the world and the Bengals locker room is no different. Like most of the pro sports universe, it is populated by a generation of athletes raised on Bryant's old-school work ethic and a once in-a-lifetime drive to win that was so lethal it spilled into his successful business venture while he nicknamed himself after one of the world's deadliest creatures.

The Mamba.

"That championship mindset," Dennard said. "One of a kind."

Darqueze Dennard was an Iverson guy, but a Kobe admirer.
Darqueze Dennard was an Iverson guy, but a Kobe admirer.

Walk into the Bengals locker room during any day of the Green-Dalton Era and there's a good chance you'd run into a vociferous debate about the greatest winner-greatest-player-greatest-whatever in the NBA.

Michael? The Mamba? LeBron?

"During the early years when Lebron was chasing after Kobe, that was a big topic," said defensive end Carlos Dunlap, the former post player for Fort Dorchester High School in Charleston, S.C., who didn't go much for taking sides in the debate. "They were different. They played the game differently."

But Monday wasn't a day of debate. Reflection is more like it. Maybe even celebration. Dennard had spent some of Sunday texting with teammate A.J. Green, a Kobe fan who is now in the Kevin Durant camp. You can see why. Green's no-frills stoicism is a match for Bryant's blue-collar game.

"Eye-opening," Dennard said. "We were saying you never know."

Dennard wasn't a Bryant fan.

"Allen Iverson," said Dennard of the feisty point guard. "I felt like I was similar to him because of his size and attitude."

But Dennard was like every young basketball player born in the late '80s and '90s and tried some Kobe moves.

"While I was playing," Dennard said. "You know, the signatures. The shimmy fadeaway. The biting the jersey. Pounding out the chest. That type of stuff."

He was an Iverson guy, but he had a signed Kobe jersey. He watched his interviews and paid attention to his workouts. He was enormously impressed when Bryant went into business while still playing and invested in BodyArmor. It was about a month before the Bengals drafted Dennard in the first round and he took that with him into the pros.

"Kobe for our generation is one of the greatest to pick up a basketball. It affected me. And you look around the world. Football. Soccer. Losing a type of guy like Kobe, Everybody can relate to that. The world kind of stopped.

"I admired him. That championship mindset. Everybody needs to take that into everyday life … I watched his interviews, his workouts, paid attention to what he said. I think that helped me as well as other athletes and other people as well."

Dunlap noticed how Kobe carried himself and how he gave back to the young guys coming behind him.

"He was outworking them or making them outwork him," Dunlap said. "I respected his game and how he played. The way he went about his work. He took care of his business without the headlines."

Bryant's career was so long and good that by the end he became a symbol of what was great about the game. The effort. The work. The will. Corey Dillon, the Bengals all-time rusher, doesn't live far from the Calabasas' mountainside where Bryant and his daughter died Sunday in a helicopter crash.

"Never got a chance to but loved what he represented," Dillon texted Monday when asked if he had ever met Bryant.

Dennard had a chance to meet Bryant. And other NBA greats, for that matter, through his friendship with the Warriors' Draymond Green. There was an invite to the all-star game in Toronto, in 2016, Bryant's last. But Dennard, an avowed homebody, didn't want to make the trip.

Yet he had a sense of what he missed as walked through Los Angeles Monday.

"Slow motion," Dennard said. "Like it's not real. Surreal. You get all these text messages and you don't believe it. Social media has killed off people before they die and I was hoping that was the case. Unfortunately that wasn't the play."