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Jerry West On Kobe Bryant's Death: 'I Don't Know If I Can Get Over This, I Really Don't'

Jerry West tearfully talked about how much Kobe Bryant meant to him Tuesday following the former Laker superstar's death Sunday

Jerry West immediately knew Kobe Bryant was something special. 

Before the 1996 NBA draft, West, the Lakers' general manager at the time, watched some college players workout. He was beyond unimpressed and didn't want any of them on his team. 

Then he watched a 17-year-old out of Lower Merion High go through a workout.

"After 10 minutes, I said, 'Stop this,'" West said on TNT's one-hour special honoring Bryant on Tuesday. "He was embarrassing Michael [Cooper]."

West knew he had to have the budding star and orchestrated a deal to acquire Bryant, who was selected 13th overall by the Charlotte Hornets. 

West then turned to free agent Shaquille O'Neal and made his pitch, talking up Bryant. 

"I said, Shaquille, we just drafted a kid who's the best player in the draft," West said. "I said I know you've got a lot of good players in Orlando. But I said we have better players here, and we have one that's going to be the best player in the league one day. Pretty bold statement to make, but to me it was obvious."

O'Neal signed a seven-year, $121 million deal with the Lakers during the summer of 1996. O'Neal and Bryant went on to win three NBA championships together from 2000-2002. 

West cried intermittently Tuesday as he talked about Bryant, who was killed alongside his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people in a helicopter crash Sunday in Calabasas. 

"I have a special relationship with him," West said. "No one knows the intimate talks I had with him."

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West became Bryant's mentor. 

"The thing that probably is hardest for me is the times I spent with him when he was 17 years old at my house, constantly wanting me to go to the gym," West said. "Watching him play in the summer league and everyone was excited to see a young kid like that. Yes, and having dinners at my house. My son, Ryan, was his first best friend in town."

West was there for Bryant throughout his career. He recalled talking to Bryant when he was a free agent in 2004, urging him not to sign with the Clippers. At the time, Bryant was exasperated with his relationship with O'Neal, whom he thought didn't work hard enough.  

"I told him, 'Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this,'" West said, adding, "You cant play for that owner [Donald Sterling], period."

Bryant remained with the Lakers his entire 20-season career, winning five NBA championships, two Finals MVPs and one regular season MVP in 2008. 

"He always talked about this Mamba mentality," West said. "He didn't have to create that. It was already there."

West said that Los Angeles is a "sad city" right now, adding that Bryant meant so much to so many people, especially him.  

"To see not one, not two, but three families gone," West said. "Saddest day of my life. I lost a brother in Korea. That's the only thing that compares to this to me."

West, 81, said his relationship with Bryant extended far beyond the court. 

"Honestly, I felt like his father for two years," West said, choking up and taking a long pause before continuing. "I don't know if I can get over this, I really don't."