SALT LAKE CITY — Chad Lewis is a big Utah Jazz fan, but the former BYU and NFL tight end was among the numerous spectators to sport a Kobe Bryant jersey to Monday night’s game at Vivint Arena.
Proudly so, too.
For Lewis, it was a simple tribute to the legendary basketball superstar, who died Sunday in a helicopter accident, and a way for him to thank Bryant for showing him some love back in his playing days.
“I’m just rocked like everyone else,” Lewis, now the BYU associate athletic director, said while proudly sporting the white No. 24 top in Jazzland. “I can’t even believe it happened. Here we are 24 hours later and it’s still just not real.”
They never met, but stories about the Philadelphia-bred Bryant occasionally wearing Lewis’ No. 89 Eagles jersey at Lakers shootarounds meant a lot to the three-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XXXIV champion.
“I wanted to talk to him and say, ‘Thanks for wearing my jersey,’” said Lewis, who played for the Eagles in 1997-98 and then again from 2000-05. “He’s a Philly boy and a huge Eagles fan. I wish I would have been able to talk to him. It’s sad.”
Lewis regrets that he never had a chance to chat with Kobe in person, but he’s grateful for the small personal connection with a man who was bigger than the sport he played.
“What he did, it really changed the world and the game of basketball,” Lewis said. “Think of every single arena he ever played in, think of every restaurant, every hotel around that arena. People came to watch him play basketball. Look at the impact he had on commerce and people and our country and the world.”
Lewis spoke to one person on the other side of the world on Monday that Bryant impacted during his 20-year career.
“One of my friends in Africa, he grew up in an orphanage in Ghana. He had nothing. He’s been weeping all day because his hero Kobe Bryant is gone,” Lewis said. “He’s like, ‘What did I have in that orphanage? I had nothing so I’d follow Kobe Bryant.’
“That’s an amazing impact.”