Count Gordon Hayward among the scores of current and former players mourning the loss of Kobe Bryant.
Like so many others, Hayward's career has been profoundly touched and influenced by Bryant both on and off the floor.
Hayward was a member of the Utah Jazz team that played against Bryant in his memorable final game when he scored 60 points. And Hayward was on the floor when Bryant hit the free throw for the final one of his 33,643 points.
There was a story circulating on Monday about that very free throw. Broadcaster Mike Tirico, who called that game for ESPN and now works for NBC, appeared on The Ryen Russillo Podcast and shared an anecdote about Hayward committing a lane violation on that free throw in the event that Bryant missed in order to give him another crack at 60.
Hayward published a series of heart-felt tweets on Monday which included a clarification of that anecdote, offering up that he did not intentionally step into that lane and that each and every one of Bryant's 60 points came without any preferential treatment.
The past day has been incredibly heartbreaking for me. Kobe is someone that I looked up to and admired and developed a personal relationship with. I have struggled so much with trying to understand the devastating news and like many others I'm still trying to process it.- Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) January 28, 2020
It has also come to my attention that there is a story going around tonight about an intentional lane violation that I took to ensure Kobe would get his 60th point in his final game and many are applauding me for the gesture. The fact of the matter is that is not true.- Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) January 28, 2020
That was a night that I will truly never forget as I can remember almost every moment of it and my goal that night was to compete as hard as I possibly could against Kobe because that is what he was all about and I wanted to give him my very best.- Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) January 28, 2020
He got 60 on me and I didn't give him anything free all night. What happened on the free throw line was not intentional. Kobe would have lost respect for me if I gave him something free. That's what made him so very special!- Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) January 28, 2020
Rest In Peace Kobe. I'm so honored to have shared our time on and off the court together!- Gordon Hayward (@gordonhayward) January 28, 2020
For his part, Tirico himself later responded via Twitter: "so glad he clarified what I had always assumed was intentional that night. Our paths have never crossed since that night. Thank you @espn for reairing Kobe's final game. Still all so had to believe."
Now in his 10th season, Hayward is playing his best basketball since the 2016-17 season when he made his first and only All-Star team as a member of the Jazz. It's been a long road back for Hayward, who suffered a gruesome leg injury just five minutes into his debut with the Boston Celtics to open the 2017-18 season.
Who was among the first to reach out to Hayward?
The Lakers' superstar penned a lengthy instagram post to Hayward with words of encouragement and inspiration. It was one of countless instances of Bryant embracing his role as an idol among the current generation in his post-playing career.
Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it's all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back THAT play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you. Time to move on and focus on doing everything in your power to prepare for surgery, ask all the questions to be sure you understand fully the procedure so that you may visualize it in your subconscious while being operated on and better the chance of it's success. Then focus on the recovery process day by day by day. It's a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that prior to this injury were taken for granted. This will also mean that when you return you will have a new perspective. You will be so appreciative of being able to stand, walk, run that you will train harder than you ever have. You see the belief within you grow with each mini milestone and you will come back a better player for it. Best of luck to you on this journey my brother #mambamentality always.
Including that final game, Bryant and Hayward played against each other 14 times.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.