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What Kobe Bryant meant and means to Giants’ most fiery pitcher

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants do not have a Kobe Bryant because only one team ever had a Kobe Bryant. What they do have is a pitcher who, if in style rather than ability, echoes the type of athlete the world lost Sunday.

The tragedy that unfolded in Calabasas reverberated not just through the basketball world, but the world itself. All over the map are people in mourning, including a kid who grew up in Rocklin, just outside Sacramento.

The word “competitive” followed Bryant like a shadow, a legend whose intensity lifted and weighted and defined him. In eight major league starts, the same sort of loathing for losing was evident in Logan Webb, a 23-year-old who loudly shot up through the system after a PED suspension and dealt with poor performances in silence. Postgame interviews following down outings were conducted in whispers. In a season that was long, even for baseball standards, losing can seem commonplace, viewed as one fewer game to play. Games that Webb started and lost were crushing to the rookie.

Webb was raised a Kings fan and begrudging Bryant admirer who still, to this day, will “try to do the fadeaway and I’ll yell, ‘Kobe!’” he said over the phone Monday, a day after the Southern California helicopter crash that claimed nine lives, including Bryant and his daughter Gianna. “I’ll brick it most of the time. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing it.”

Webb spoke for an entire generation of people who grew up with Bryant as the face of not just winning but a ferocious, unbending quest to win. Allen Iverson mocked practice. Kobe made practice part of a complicated legacy that includes five NBA championships, a sexual assault charge and a public comeback in his post-basketball career that included being a loving father of four girls and an Academy Award winner. The accusation will always be by his record, as will his attempt to improve, at least publicly, as a person.

Like so many, Webb deflected rather than absorbed the stunning news. His roommate in Arizona, where he’s spent the offseason training for 2020, told him what TMZ was first reporting.

“Then I started to do the natural thing and started to look it up,” Webb said. “There were some stories that day that I really didn’t know [about] and I wanted to be fake. And then it started to come out on bigger news channels and stuff. My heart just kind of dropped.”

Tears came first when he began believing it, and when he learned of Gianna being on board, “That’s when it really hit me hard.

“Talked to my mom and dad on the phone,” he said. “I was texting back and forth with them. Texted my brother, said I love him. I didn’t do much [Sunday] except sat around.”

One more time for a Kings fan, Kobe had broken his heart. Webb gently laughed as he remembered Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference — although Bryant allowed Robert Horry to be the hero/villain who stole hope from Kings fans in that instance.

Bryant was the rare athlete who transcended traditional fandom. Webb wanted to hate him but couldn’t. Webb wants to be him but can’t.

It helped set the table for the kind of competitor Webb became; one who spends the majority of an offseason at the team’s spring training camp, who takes a poor outing like others take punches to the face.

On the basketball court, teams are taking 24-second violations to honor No. 24. The 49ers’ Richard Sherman, who has a Super Bowl to worry about, is baring his soul in illustrating what Bryant meant to him. For Webb, he’s remembering the attitude that helped shape him.

“I can tell you that whole ‘Mamba Mentality’ that he brought, I try to emulate that on and off the field,” said Webb, who got engaged this offseason. “Seeing him not only as a player but as a coach to all his daughters’ teams, and the father that he was — I don’t think there’s a better guy in the world that you could try to emulate.”

A few weeks before Giants spring training begins, Webb has lost a hero and, he said, a piece of his childhood.

“It makes me look at life a little bit differently,” said Webb, who will try to improve from a 5.22 ERA in a season that will have him on an innings limit. “I think you can’t take any days for granted, that’s for sure. I think looking back at Kobe and everything he did … he was more than just basketball. He was all sports. And that kind of mentality that be brought on and off the court — that’s something I’ve tried to [imitate] for a while.”


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