Trout, Puig, Harper, Kemp honor NBA icon with special gear, tweets
By Andrew Simon
On Wednesday, as Kobe Bryant got ready to finish his Hall of Fame career in the NBA, a number of Major League stars showed their appreciation for one of basketball's best.
Before Bryant dropped 60 points in a memorable finale against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center, a fellow L.A.-area athlete paid homage. That would be Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who donned special Nike cleats (painted black and gold) and batting gloves (black, purple and gold) before the Halos' afternoon game against the A's in Oakland.
While Trout wasn't allowed to wear the shoes during the game because they aren't the Angels' official colors, he did use the batting gloves, which have Bryant's emblem on the index finger and his two jersey numbers -- 8 and 24 -- stitched below the palm.
"It's crazy when you think next year he's not going to be in uniform," said Trout, who was 5 years old when Bryant made his NBA debut in 1996. "Goes by quick."
Bryant and Trout both have endorsement deals with Nike, and the former lives in Orange County and has attended several Angels games. He also happens to be the third-leading scorer in NBA history and the winner of five championship rings during his 20 seasons with the Lakers.
Another L.A. outfielder, the Dodgers' Yasiel Puig, also had special shoes and gloves and tweeted a picture of them before Wednesday night's home game against the D-backs.
"My #mambaday gear, in honor of my good friend @kobebryant, The Best," Puig wrote, referring to one of Bryant's nicknames, Black Mamba.
The Dodgers played a video to honor Bryant in the bottom of the fifth inning of Wednesday's game as the guard played his final game at the Staples Center mere miles from Dodger Stadium. The video displayed highlights and celebrations from Bryant's career, ending with a simple message of "Thank you, Kobe." Chants of "Kobe!" had also rung out from the stands earlier in the fifth after the stadium showed a fan with a Lakers jersey.
There certainly are some parallels between Bryant and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper. Bryant went straight from high school to the NBA, making his debut as an 18-year-old and quickly becoming a star. Harper left high school early to play in junior college and made his debut with the Nationals at age 19 in 2012, less than two years after he was drafted first overall.
Harper, who met Bryant for the first time two years ago, tweeted a photo of Bryant flying in for a dunk, writing, "Thank you for the memories @kobebryant!"
"I grew up watching somebody who was incredibly talented. He is special in what he does," Harper said before the Nationals' game against the Braves on Wednesday. "He was always striving to do the best every year he played. He always wanted to get better, day in and day out. I took a lot from that. He has that attitude on and off the court. He's a lot of fun to watch."
Padres outfielder Matt Kemp, a former Dodger, posted a photo on Instagram of his special Bryant-themed batting gloves, along with a picture of Bryant and the #MambaDay hashtag.
Before the Padres played in Philadelphia, Kemp called it "a sad day in basketball," as Bryant is one of his two favorite players all-time, along with Michael Jordan.
"It was indescribable to see him play and to watch him on the court and see how easy he made it look," Kemp said of Bryant. "He used to torch fools."
Andrew Simon is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.