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Kobe Bryant was ‘starting to reach his peak outside of’ basketball, Richard Sherman says

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Just as Richard Sherman’s pro football career was kicking off, he had the opportunity to meet Kobe Bryant for the first time.

That meeting became the start of a strong relationship, the San Francisco 49ers cornerback told reporters Wednesday at a Super Bowl LIV press conference as he shared the impact the basketball and pop culture icon has had in his life. Bryant died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others Sunday.

As Sherman recalls, the meeting came back in 2011 or 2012, when his rep told him Bryant was going in before him at a photo shoot, then asked if he’d like to meet the five-time NBA champion who played his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“There’s nothing more I want to do than meet Kobe. I could throw the shoot away. I just want to meet Kobe,” Sherman said. “... Kobe more than exceeded my expectations — one of the most genuine guys, he knew of me, we had conversations of the success I was and he really liked my approach to the game and my dogged mentality.”

Sherman, a nine-year pro who’s headed to his third Super Bowl when the 49ers play Kansas City on Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium, said a couple months later he got Bryant to play in his charity softball game. Even though Bryant had never played softball before, it didn’t show.

“He hits a home run, of course, on his first at-bat,” Sherman said.

The two ended up forming a close relationship and had conversations to help encourage each other, conversations that gave him a deep look into the type of person Bryant was, Sherman said.

“He was a great man, a great father, a great player. But I just felt like basketball was going to be the thing he was known least for once he was all said and done,” Sherman said.

“He was finally starting to reach his peak outside of that. He wants to be known as a great father, a great businessman, a great philanthropist, and I know he was headed in that direction. It’s just sad that we won’t get to see its true potential come to fruition.”