Kobe Bryant’s death hits home for Stephen Jackson: Fallen NBA great, Port Arthuran were All Americans in ’96

Published 12:15 am Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Like many past and present NBA players, Stephen Jackson wasn’t long removed from talking with Kobe Bryant at length before a helicopter crash claimed the life of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others Sunday.

Jackson, a Port Arthur native, co-hosts a podcast with fellow NBA retiree Matt Barnes called All the Smoke, produced for Showtime Sports. A 40-minute episode of the series, released Jan. 8, featured an interview with the Los Angeles Lakers great at his home.

Eighteen days later, Jackson took to Instagram and Twitter to reflect on the impact Bryant’s death had on him.

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“Never told u but the only basketball player I was scared of,” Jackson posted Sunday for Bryant, who perished just hours earlier in Calabasas, Calif. “Wouldn’t have never told u that in person. All the stuff I have going on in my own life has answers now. This happening to you today tears my soul apart. But all I can hear u saying Jack whatever u do just make sure u enjoying it. I’m taking that to heart even more now and using it daily as my motivation. From age 15 to now u will always be the best player I’ve ever played against. Really at a [loss] for words Bean. U know how much I looked up to u. A God in my eyes. Ima scream it to my time expire Love u Mamba Class of 96 A day I will never forget. Love and Prayers to his family.”

Bean was the middle name of Bryant, 41.

Bryant and Jackson were teammates for the West squad in the 1996 McDonald’s All American Game. Jackson tied Winfred Walton of Detroit for the game-high with 21 points, while Bryant, who was a senior at Lower Merion High School in the Philadelphia area, netted only 13 points.

Other notable All Americans from that game included Mike Bibby, Mateen Cleaves, Richard Hamilton, Jermaine O’Neal, Tim Thomas and Aldine Nimitz’s Jerald Brown, who played at Texas A&M. Bryant would forgo college and retire as the third all-time leading scorer in NBA history with 33,643 points. Current Laker LeBron James surpassed Bryant on that chart Saturday and has 33,655 points as of Monday.

Jackson spent his senior season at Oak Hill Academy in Virginia after leading Lincoln to the 4A state championship as a junior.

Kobe and Gianna Bryant, along with seven others, were believed to be headed from Santa Ana, Calif., to a basketball tournament in which Gianna was competing in Thousand Oaks. Santa Ana is 73 miles via Interstate 5 and U.S. 101 from Santa Ana, with Los Angeles in the middle of the path, and would take an estimated 1 hour, 42 minutes to drive. Calabasas is an estimated 14-minute drive east of Thousand Oaks.

Aviation experts told the Associated Press the wreck may have been caused by the pilot becoming disoriented in the fog.

The University of Houston confirmed Sunday that John Altobelli, 56, a former player and assistant coach at the school in the 1980s, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa were among those who were killed. Alyssa was Gianna’s teammate. The AP reported elementary school coach Christina Mauser was another victim.

The AP did not name the pilot.

The National Transportation Safety Board was still investigating the crash as of Monday afternoon.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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