“I ended up playing nine years in the NBA. Talentwise, I don’t know if I should have been able to play that long,” said Madsen, currently the head men’s basketball coach at Utah Valley University. “But I think being with Kobe as a teammate for the first three years, he really helped me increase my toughness and mental toughness a lot and just learning how to play in pressure situations.”
Madsen and Bryant were teammates on the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 to 2003 and won two NBA championships during that span. Madsen also coached Bryant a decade later as a Lakers assistant before Bryant retired in 2016.
Warmest thoughts and prayers with Vanessa and daughters Natalia, Bianka, & Capri. Deepest condolences. Kobe treated me like a brother. He demanded the best. He taught how to overcome anything no matter the adversity. Your legacy lives 4ever. I love you dear friend. Rest in peace. pic.twitter.com/EHFUg1705f— Mark Madsen (@madsen_mark) January 26, 2020
Now in his first year at UVU, Madsen has joined with the world of sports in mourning the deaths of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and others involved in a helicopter crash Sunday.
Since hearing the news, Madsen said he has been overwhelmed with grief for Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, and the other families who lost loved ones.
“It’s just a tragedy,” Madsen said. “It came as a huge surprise and I just feel really sad about it. I’ve just been working through the different emotions.”
When Madsen reflects on his time with Bryant, what stands out is how much the Lakers’ legend helped him to become a better player. He’s equally grateful for the example Bryant set off the court as a husband and father who was also involved in the community.
“He was a wonderful role model and a great person,” Madsen said.
That’s backed up by one of Madsen’s favorite personal moments with Bryant. After a game one night against the Sacramento Kings, Madsen recalls Bryant beaming as he showed him a picture of one of his daughters and talked about his family.
“You know, it’s meaningful when there’s such a great player who attains the pinnacle of success in basketball and yet what he really cared about was his family,” Madsen said.
Since Bryant’s passing, Madsen has taken time to teach the UVU basketball team about the skills, habits and qualities that made Bryant great, chief among them his firm commitment to excellence and unquestioned leadership.
“Kobe did a very good job of raising the level of performance of everyone around him by demanding that they be their best. He held his peers accountable to a high standard,” Madsen said. “Very few people do that, but he did it and it translated into championships for the Lakers.”
At times Madsen and Bryant disagreed on things, but Bryant was always willing to discuss their differences, Madsen said.
“A superstar like him could have easily said ‘I don’t want to talk about that,’” Madsen said. “But he made time to talk, listen and communicate. I respect that.”
Ultimately, Madsen is thankful for the influence Bryant had on his life.
“I’m just grateful to have had the chance to play alongside him as a player and to coach him a decade later. I’ll miss him dearly,” Madsen said. “My thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the other families impacted by the accident.”