One month ago, Larry Fitzgerald tried to get Kobe Bryant to speak with the Cardinals before their season finale against the Rams at the L.A. Coliseum, but the Lakers legend already had plans.
"He was coaching Gigi's team, so he couldn't come over," Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald was still reeling Wednesday afternoon at the shocking death of both Kobe and Gigi, Bryant's second-oldest daughter, in a helicopter accident that claimed nine lives on Sunday in California. The Bryants had been on their way to a basketball game, just like the one that was keeping Kobe busy in late-December.
Fitzgerald spoke of his affinity for Bryant during the Pro-Am at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
"I had a great relationship with him," Fitzgerald said. "I talked to him quite often. … (Kobe was) not only a special talent, but a special person. Anybody that ever came around him, you came away knowing that you were in the presence of greatness. He was so unique, so intelligent, so introspective. He's got so many wonderful qualities about him, and it's just tough to think that he was lost at such a young age. He's going to be sorely missed."
Cornerback Patrick Peterson watched Bryant play in the NBA several times through the years and had the star power to arrange a postgame introduction, but never did so.
"I had plenty of opportunities, but it never felt that the time was right," Peterson said. "It was coming off losses, and being a competitor, I kind of know how it is coming off a loss. You don't want to meet no one new or have phony conversations, so I kind of thought the timing wasn't appropriate. I'm kicking myself in the butt still to this day, not taking advantage of that opportunity."
Peterson said he has been a fan of Bryant since 1997 and was crushed at the news of his untimely death.
"A short life lived, but he will definitely not be forgotten," Peterson said. "Mamba mentality forever."
Christian Kirk likewise pointed to that 'Mamba mentality' as an example for athletes to follow, although the Cardinals receiver said Bryant's legacy will go beyond the hardwood.
"We're always looking for a way to mentally get us over a hump, to be able to finish in the fourth quarter, to come up clutch, and Kobe embodied all of that," Kirk said. "It meant so much to have an idol and somebody we could look up to. And he was such an amazing person as well, and a father. It's still hard to put into words. It's a tragedy."