BIGGEST FAN: Gympie Basketballer Matt Smith with his LA Lakers Kobe Byrant jersey's. Photo: Bec Singh
BIGGEST FAN: Gympie Basketballer Matt Smith with his LA Lakers Kobe Byrant jersey's. Photo: Bec Singh

Gympie basketballer was inspired to play because of Bryant

BASKETBALL: Gympie basketballer and LA Lakers fan Matt Smith was inspired to play the game because of Kobe Byrant.

As fans learned of Bryant’s tragic passing on Monday, Smith was coincidentally playing in a basketball tournament on the Sunshine Coast.

“It was very shocking news,” he said.

BIGGEST FAN: Gympie Basketballer Matt Smith with his LA Lakers Kobe Byrant jersey's. Photo: Bec Singh
BIGGEST FAN: Gympie Basketballer Matt Smith with his LA Lakers Kobe Byrant jersey's. Photo: Bec Singh

“I woke up early and I got a message from a friend, who is not a basketball fan, to turn on the news and I was just shocked.

“There was a different vibe at the tournament on Monday, there were a lot of Lakers jerseys and Kobe jerseys.”

Smith, a diehard Lakers fan, started following Bryant’s career just before he was drafted in the National Basketball League in 1996.

“I have been a fan of his right from the start, he was an absolute icon of the sport,” he said.

“There are very few people in the last 25 years that have done what he has. There are superstars in the game but very few that were as iconic as Kobe.

“He was not scared of anyone, he always worked harder than everyone else and he inspired people whether you were a Lakers fan or not.”

If it was not for Byrant, Smith would not be playing.

“I am not the greatest basketballer on the planet but he is the reason I played and continue to play,” he said.

MOURNING HIS LOSS: Gympie Basketballers (back, from left) Jay Redshaw, Aaron Lodder, Matt Smith and Adam Turner. (middle) Zac McLean, Naomi Lally, Vincent Lally, Kobe Lodder, Matt Lally and (front) Georgia Lally. Photo: Bec Singh
MOURNING HIS LOSS: Gympie Basketballers (back, from left) Jay Redshaw, Aaron Lodder, Matt Smith and Adam Turner. (middle) Zac McLean, Naomi Lally, Vincent Lally, Kobe Lodder, Matt Lally and (front) Georgia Lally. Photo: Bec Singh

“That is the same for a lot of other players. The current players and younger generation, who did not all play at the same time, they play because of watching him.”

Smith’s son’s middle name is after the great man himself and he will be doing what he can to keep Bryant’s memory alive.

People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
People gather at a memorial for Kobe Bryant near Staples Center Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Los Angeles. Bryant, the 18-time NBA All-Star who won five championships and became one of the greatest basketball players of his generation during a 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, died in a helicopter crash Sunday. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

“I have too many Lakers jerseys to stop wearing them,” he said.

“I will still watch all the Lakers games. Every time he did a podcast and listening to the way he embraced the second part of his life is equally inspiring as anything he has done in sport.”

Smith’s favourite moment of Bryant was his last game.

“Lakers had been struggling to make it through the last season and he shot 60 points that game,” he said.

“We won that game because of him, it put an exclamation mark on his career.

“When I got home from the tournament on Monday night, I watched that game again. There are a lot of other games and winning shots. He always turned up regardless.”