BALTIMORE — Gary Neal went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant several times over his six-plus seasons in the NBA.
“With yesterday’s news you look back on it and it’s amazing that I was even able to be on the floor with somebody as phenomenal as Kobe Bryant,” he said.
Neal, who grew up in Aberdeen, attended Calvert Hall High School and Towson University is now a graduate manager with the Towson men’s basketball team. He broke into the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs and had some epic showdowns with Bryant’s Lakers.
“I guarded him a few times and he shot his patented fade-away on me a couple times,” said Neal.
Bryant also gave a little boost to a then rookie Neal at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game. Neal was taking part in All-Star weekend as part of the rookie team.
“We had a little conversation and he just told me to keep up the good work. Just to get words of encouragement from one of the best players to ever play the game was great for me,” Neal said.
Columbia native and former Mount St. Joseph High School star J.J. Outlaw considered Kobe a friend. Outlaw was on the Lakers coaching staff for Bryant’s final five seasons in Los Angeles.
“He was a person who was extremely relentless with laser focus unlike I’ve ever seen in a human being before,” said Outlaw.
Outlaw is now on the Cleveland Cavaliers coaching staff.
“I think everybody is in extreme shock,” he said from his hotel room in Detroit. “Everybody’s in disbelief and everybody is hurting in their own ways. It’s bigger than basketball. He was an icon to the likes that I’ve never experienced before.”
Bigger than basketball. That defines Kobe Bryant during his extraordinary life and his untimely death.
“The toughest part about it is that he’s doing something that every father does, taking your kid to their game. That’s something that every parent all across America, all across the world is doing on the weekend,” said Neal. “That part of it hits home because that lets you know that it could happen to anybody.”