Kyle Okposo once stepped into a hotel elevator and had an experience he would never forget. Even for a professional athlete, just being in a room with Kobe Bryant was special.
"I didn't say anything to him, but he just had that presence about him," Okposo said inside the Sabres' dressing room Monday. "When he was in the same room, you knew."
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among the nine victims of a helicopter crash that occurred in Calabasas, Calif. on Sunday. Like Kobe himself, the news transcended basketball. The soccer star, Neymar, dedicated a goal in his honor. Chants of his name were heard at the NFL's Pro Bowl. In Montreal, a somber Alex Ovechkin reflected on their interactions.
Count members of the Sabres among those who found inspiration in Bryant's life and grief in his passing. Jack Eichel wrote in an open letter following his recovery from a high-ankle sprain in 2016 about the motivation he felt watching the documentary Muse, which detailed Bryant's comeback from a ruptured Achilles' tendon at age 34.
The Sabres captain found himself revisiting that inspiration after practice on Monday.
"It's obviously kind of on the back end of his career and I just look at the way that he rehabbed himself, the way that he worked, the way that he did everything to get himself back to play again and even though their team wasn't great, I thought it was motivational for somebody who's done so much just to feel like he had more to prove and he had so much more to give," Eichel said.
"… The impact he had on athletes across the world [were] greater than just basketball. Somebody like myself, he impacted so much and he would never know that."
While Eichel was home resting from his appearance at All-Star Weekend when he heard the news, Okposo and his teammates were between practice sessions at LECOM Harborcenter. Okposo describes himself as an avid basketball fan. With another child due in April, he, like Bryant, will soon be a father of four.
"It hit hard yesterday, just because of his impact and his mentality," Okposo said. "Everybody talks about the Mamba mentality and he had it every day. Just watching him from afar and how competitive he was and how fiery he was, it was amazing to see kind of his whole career and what he did. And then to transition to becoming a family and to having four daughters and myself about to have my fourth child in April, it really hit home with him in the crash and passing away with his daughter.
"Just all the things he was doing for women's basketball with his daughter and the schools, the businesses, he was just getting started in his life, his life after basketball, after playing. To lose somebody like that, he was a larger than life figure. He was a titan, he was a global icon, and he will be sorely missed."
Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said Bryant's passing was front-page news even in Switzerland, where much of his family is now.
"I don't watch television at all, and I did last night," Krueger said. "I love the world-class athletes and I get goosebumps thinking about the amount of amazing athletic performances I saw from Kobe and then if you look at how he was working at his next stage of life, I think that's being spoken about a lot because it is a tough step for a superstar like that.
"It's just extremely tragic to have a life cut so short from somebody who had the opportunity to inspire so many people, and that's gone. That's gone forever, nobody can take that space, and I always find that tragic because the world needs good leaders, the world needs good examples, and the world needs people that can inspire other people. The world lost a big inspiration yesterday with Kobe going."
Eichel spoke poignantly as he attempted to sort through the tragedy.
"The bigger message through everything that happened is how fragile and precious life is," Eichel said. "You can't take a day for granted. I think it was just a really big eyeopener for so many people. You would never expect something like that to happen, but I think when it does it puts a lot of things in perspective.
"We complain and we worry about so many different things in our lives, but at the end of the day we've been given this precious gift of life and it's so important to just enjoy it every day and make the most of it because something like that happens, that's real life, that's not wins and losses and standings and points. That's somebody who, he was a father and a husband, a friend, a family [member]. I think that puts a lot of things in perspective. We're living this life and at the end of the day, you never know when it's going to go for you. Somebody like Kobe, who is a worldwide figure for so much more than just basketball, his life was cut short and so was his daughter's. It's a terrible tragedy."