As far as societal seismic scales go, the magnitude and intensity of the jolt from the sudden death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant was felt all the way from the United States to the humble suburbia of Hawke's Bay.

Clifton Bush III, of Napier, and Latrell Ah Kiong, of Hastings, echo the sentiments of his legions of international followers when they revealed they were stunned into numbness when they found out Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were among those who perished in a helicopter crash in fog in Southern California in the early hours of Monday (NZ time).

"As long as I can remember, that's the reason why I got into basketball," said Bush, who had woken up about 7am to learn from a friend during a group chat that his 41-year-old idol had left this world much too early as world leaders and countless sport and entertainment industry stars chorused tribute to the retired small forward and shooting guard.


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Not convinced, the year 13-bound Napier Boys' High School pupil immediately surfed the internet waves to try to ascertain "if it was fake news or real news".

"When I found out it was real news I just teared up a little bit, you know," said Bush, who is the son of American-born former Taylor Corporation Hawks and New Zealand Basketball League star Clifton Bush II.

Bryant playing his swansong match for the Los Angeles Lakers has left an indelible impression on the now 17-year-old's mind.

Born in Philadelphia, he went on to play for the Lakers for two decades. It had culminated with 60 points in his final outing to spearhead his team to a 101-96 victory over the Utah Jazz on April, 2016.

"He had dropped so many buckets that it was simply inspirational and so amazing," said Bush of Bryant, who created history on December 18 the following year when he became the first Laker to have two jersey numbers — 8 and 24 — retired during a halftime ceremony.

Kobe Bryant celebrates the retirement of his Lakers No 8 and No 24 singlets in 2017 with Natalia (left), wife Vanessa, Kobe holding Bianka and Gianna in Los Angeles. Photo / Photosport
Kobe Bryant celebrates the retirement of his Lakers No 8 and No 24 singlets in 2017 with Natalia (left), wife Vanessa, Kobe holding Bianka and Gianna in Los Angeles. Photo / Photosport

The New Zealand age-group prospect had told Hawke's Bay Today about this time last year that he models his game on the bloke the global basketball family fondly knew as the Black Mamba — one of the world's most venomous and the fastest land snake.

Bush has a giant poster of the five-time NBA title-winner adorning the wall of his bedroom at the home of his mother, Christina.

Bryant had established the Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks and was, reportedly, on the chopper flight en route to mentoring his daughter when they died in the crash. The academy was hosting a tournament for young players but the event had, subsequently, been cancelled.

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So what was it about Bryant that resonated with Bush?

"The way that he didn't care about any of these things," he explained. "He used to go do his thing, no matter what — where he was, no matter who he was playing."

Bush said it was very, very sad Gigi too had died in the crash — a daughter who wanted to show she had the credentials to be the boy Bryant never had to follow in his famous footsteps.

Bryant is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters, Natalia, 16, Bianka, 3, and Capri born in June last year.

"If I could say one thing to Kobe, I would like to say, 'thank-you'," said Bush, a former Port Ahuriri Primary and Tamatea Intermediate pupil, who suspected former tall Black and Hawk guard Paora Winitana and his sons were Bryant followers, too.

Former Hastings Boys' High School graduate Ah Kiong echoed similar sentiments, revealing he was shocked when he returned from the Hawke's Bay Rugby Academy training about 8am to find out about the tragedy.

"Someone was saying the Kobe had died so I started checking and found out [it was true] so I pretty much cried, eh," said the 18-year-old from Flaxmere, who played up to senior schoolboy basketball under American-born ex-Hawk coach Curtis Wooten.

"He was the reason why I had started playing basketball," said the former little general on the court who had only been shimmying, faking and putting up jump shots from the age of 8 after taking a shine to the code when his grandfather, Winiata Smiler, took him along to a team he was training.

His parents, Cheleme Smiler-Ah Kiong and father Herman Ah Kiong, encouraged him to juggle it with rugby although it did help that sister, Aaliyah, 23, was thriving in the sport in her teenage years. He juggled two codes but stayed true to his grandfather's advice that "rugby is the sport, my boy" but he could fall back on basketball if things didn't pan out.

Latrell Ah Kiong chose rugby over basketball in 2018 at Hastings Boys' High School but he still adheres to Kobe Bryant's values in the game of life. Photo / File
Latrell Ah Kiong chose rugby over basketball in 2018 at Hastings Boys' High School but he still adheres to Kobe Bryant's values in the game of life. Photo / File

The teenager found traction with Bryant's hard-yard attitude, considering his grandfather had drilled into him that it's never enough to succeed at the higher echelons unless a person is prepared to work diligently for it.

Ah Kiong recalls seeing Bryant conjure magic with the Lakers, watching it on TV with his uncle and former Hawk Czebalos Smiler as a kid and wanting to be in hoop heaven.

So what was so alluring about Bryant?

"His work ethics — I mean his record was second to none because he was always on the top of his game," said Ah Kiong, adding Bryant had inspired aspiring sports people in myriad codes.

"I always live by his [edict] of 'Inspire others to do what they do best', so it's what others wanted to do, not just basketball."

The Peterhead School teacher aide — who in 2017 had claimed quadruple doubles with Marcos Edwards for HBHS Senior A in the HB senior men's club grade competition — said Bryant was bigger than basketball so had he ever met him in life it would have left him speechless.

"I'd like to have thanked him for not just changing the game but changing me as well and thank-you," he said, adding his condolences to Bryant's grieving family.

Incumbent Lakers super star LeBron James had surpassed two-time Olympic gold medallist Bryant as the third-highest, all-time scorer in NBA history in Philadelphia, prompting tributes from Bryant just the day before the crash. Retired LA Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the highest scorer.