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Former UNLV Runnin' Rebel Marcus Banks remembers Kobe Bryant

Posted at 7:16 AM, Jan 26, 2021

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — The sports world paused on year ago.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020, in Southern California.

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“It is very, very confusing to me to this day because he’s a leader we definitely need,” said Marcus Banks, former UNLV Runnin’ Rebel and NBA player.

Banks grew to have a close bond with Bryant and came to call him a friend, big brother and mentor.

However, he’s not the only Las Vegas local who admired Kobe. The Lakers' legend also loved this city.

Banks said the “Black Mamba” had a unique connection with UNLV.

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“Not sure if anybody in the world knew that UNLV was a team that Kobe Bryant actually considered and, you know, that was his connection -- it was so weird -- to UNLV,” said Banks.

The former Runnin’ Rebels guard started playing in the NBA in the early 2000s, just as Bryant was really making his mark in the NBA.

He would get drafted by the Grizzlies in 2003 before being traded to the Celtics.

Once there, he got to compete against Bryant - both playing for prestigious franchises.

The “Black Mamba” was someone Banks got to learn from. Their relationship continued to grow over the years, and then Banks got to try out for the Lakers in 2014.

GALLERY: Kobe Bryant, through the years

“It would take us back to when we first kind of started hanging out, like when he used to come down to Boston, and when he came down there, we used to play pool,” said Banks.

As Banks started to get away from playing the game he loved and move onto the next chapter in his life, the two would go their separate ways.

He hoped they would reconnect soon.

“I definitely wanted to learn more from him, especially when it comes to business and stuff like that,” he said.

But Banks never got the chance because one year ago his friend and mentor died in a helicopter crash.

“The first person that kind of alarmed me of what was going on was my mother,” said Banks. “It’s like, ‘mom, you know I played basketball I’m sure I would have heard of something like this if it would’ve happened.’”

He shrugged it off as a bad rumor, but then she called him right back and told him to turn on the news.

Reality began to set in, and a numbing feeling hit him that he feels to this day.

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“More than anything I was in awe about pretty much everything that was going on and still in awe right now,” he said. “It’s still something that you can’t believe because of the type of person he was and the type of legacy that he was building.”

That legacy still resonates with Banks.

He said Kobe has not only had an impact on his generation but also kids learning to play the game right now.

“In the basketball world, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, those are some guys that are G.O.A.Ts that you can look up that are very, very special individuals,” said Banks. “When they speak, things move and things happen. They are very, very powerful individuals.”

Banks is grateful that he got to know the basketball icon, and even in death, Bryant left an indelible mark on him.

“For me, it impacted me and it kind of woke me up because, man, life is so short,” he said. “You can’t take any days for granted. You got to live every day like it’s your last.”