Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum is just one of many Kobe Bryant disciples in the NBA, with the late Los Angeles Lakers legend lending his mentorship to many young stars in the league.
As he prepares to make his Olympic debut in Tokyo later this month, Tatum will carry a piece of Bryant with him, rocking his iconic No.10 jersey for the tournament.
"With this being the first Olympics since we lost him, it holds that much more value," Tatum said. "It's not something I take lightly.
"It's a tremendous honour and I'll wear it proudly."
MORE: Booker and Antetokounmpo take Kobe Bryant's influence to biggest stage
Bryant electrified the international basketball stage, leading Team USA to two gold medals at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, a key figure in revitalising the USA program.
Tatum has worn No.10 on several occasions playing for Team USA throughout his junior career and wore the number at his first senior major international tournament in 2019 at the FIBA Basketball World Cup, which Bryant attended as a FIBA Ambassador.
"I remember that first team when I was hoping, wishing, that I got No. 10," Tatum said. "Kobe, everyone knows that was my favorite player. I was 15 years old and got to wear the number of my favorite player. It just felt like I had some level of connection with him."
Tatum, who cites Bryant as his favourite player growing up, built a special bond with his childhood hero, sharing workouts and absorbing knowledge from one of the best to ever do it.
"I remember one talk, it might have been after a game, and he was saying that a lot of people won't understand what you do," Tatum said.
"He said, 'What I mean by that is, the ones that really want to be great and really want to be special really take that whatever-it-takes mentality.' He told me it takes sacrifice, because the ultimate question is about how much are you willing to give up to be great."
Head coach Gregg Popovich, who coached Tatum at the World Cup where the USA finished seventh, says the 23-year-old has developed immensely since then and is expected to be one of the team's key figures in Tokyo.
"He's become more of a two-way player," Popovich said. "He's way more confident. He's developed more skills. He's, on top of that, more aggressive and knows that he can dominate people."
New team, same expectations.- USA Basketball (@usabasketball) July 5, 2021
The 🇺🇸 #USABMNT Olympic numbers are in 🙌 pic.twitter.com/W3aecRZpxw
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.