Kobe Bryant's Draft Class Reacts To His Tragic Death

The sudden death of L.A. Lakers legend Kobe Bryant has rocked the basketball world to its core. As details from the tragedy continue to unfold, many members of Bryant's 1996 draft class have shared public reactions to the news, including Allen Iverson, Derek Fisher, and Steve Nash. These players were right alongside Bryant as he began his unforgettable NBA career, and many of them went on to compete against or alongside "Black Mamba" for years to come.

Just three years after Bryant's retirement from basketball, this athletic icon passed away at the age of 41 on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020. Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were in a helicopter that reportedly crashed into a mountainside above Calabasas, Calif, killing everyone on board. Nine people passed away in total.

If anyone truly understands the depth of Bryant's legacy firsthand, it's his 1996 NBA draft class. Here's what his peers had to say about this shocking loss.

Allen Iverson is 'devastated and heartbroken' by Kobe Bryant's death

Allen Iverson was a top pick in Kobe Bryant's draft class, and he went on to forge a legendary career with the Philadelphia 76ers. "Words cannot express how I'm feeling today," Iverson said in a statement. "The only 2 words than ring in my head — devastated and heartbroken. I cannot seem to shake this feeling no matter what I've tried to do since hearing this yesterday."

While many sports fans remember Iverson and Bryant competing against each other, their connection runs much deeper than that. "The story of us being drafted in arguably the deepest class of its kind ever in the history of the NBA can be debated for many years to come," Iverson said. "However, his generosity and respect for the game is something that I witnessed first-hand every time we stepped on the dance floor to compete."

Iverson extended condolences to Bryant's family and the families of the other crash victims. "We are not okay," he admitted. "But we will find the strength to pull through this together because that's what Kobe would want us to do."

Derek Fisher says playing with Kobe Bryant was a 'gift'

Derek Fisher played with Kobe Bryant on the L.A. Lakers for many years. In an interview with Good Morning America, Fisher reflected on what it was like to work with Bryant for so long. "Sharing the court, a workspace, a life for 13 years, with Kobe, was a gift," he said. "It was a blessing to be able to watch someone on a daily basis strive to be the best at what they do, to be the best in the world at what they do."

Fisher also noted Bryant's legacy off the court. "His evolution as a husband and as a father and as a man who wanted to impact the community beyond basketball. That's what I want people to remember."

Fisher, who now coach with the WNBA, also reflected on Bryant's contribution to young women in basketball. At the time of the helicopter crash, Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, were reportedly on their way to her basketball game, which Bryant was supposed to coach. "It's much bigger than basketball but what he has done to push the game forward for young girls and women in such a short time is amazing and inspiring," Fisher tweeted. "His legacy must continue!"

Stephon Marbury says Kobe Bryant was the 'best' of their class

Stephon Marbury, who played in the Chinese Basketball Association from 2010 to 2018, shared a tribute to Kobe Bryant on Instagram. Marbury recalled the last time he saw Bryant in China, happy and healthy. "So many memories since 96," Marbury said. He wrote that Bryant was the "best in our class" and will have a lasting impact on the sport of basketball.

"You created a mentality that players can lock into. This was a frequency channel that players could connect with," Marbury said. "Your work ethic will be a way of life like breathing air when players train. They will always say KOBE when it's for the game." He added, "You saw the vision and you followed through. Your powers on earth as a player was evident to me and lots of other people. We will mourn you but we will never stop pushing your mentality on the court."

Ray Allen says his heart is hurting

Ray Allen, NBA star and fifth pick in the 1996 draft class, also took to Instagram to share a photo of Kobe Bryant and pay homage to his peer. "As I'm trying to gather my thoughts my heart is hurting. I just got off a long flight to find out that Kobe is no longer with us! This hurts so much!" Allen wrote.

"He was one of my brothers. I am so sad for all of us, we lost a great one today! Kobe was the ultimate competitor and I loved him for it. He made all of us step our games up. I just wish I could have one more moment with him to tell him thank you! Thank you Kobe for the example you set! Thank you for always bringing your best, regardless of who was on the other side. Thank you for showing us all what greatness looked like! You will be missed!

Steve Nash admired Kobe Bryant as a father

Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant's careers followed a similar timeline — they were both drafted in 1996. Nash retired in 2015; Bryant retired the following year. As a guard with the Phoenix Suns, Nash often faced off against Bryant on the court. He also played alongside Bryant with the Lakers from 2012 to 2015.

In a Twitter statement, Nash sent his condolences to Bryant's family and shared what he admired most about the Lakers all-star: his dedication to his four daughters. "My heart is broken for Kobe and his family. I'll never forget the battles but what I really admired was the father he was to his girls," Nash tweeted. "Rest In Peace old friend with your angel Gianna."

In response to his tweet, many basketball fans reminisced about the days when the Suns and the Lakers faced off regularly. "Suns-Lakers were unforgettable in those years," one Twitter user wrote. "You two were my childhood when it came to basketball," another fan shared.

Antoine Walker says 'a wave of emotions' went through him

After the 1996 draft, Antoine Walker went on to join a notorious rival of the Lakers, the Boston Celtics. In a radio interview with The Morning Show with John and Hugh the day after the accident, Walker admitted that he was hesitant to believe the news of Kobe Bryant's death at first. Once it sunk in, Walker said he was devastated. "I mean, I [was] in that draft class with Kobe in '96," he said. "A wave of emotions went through [me]."

"I did know Kobe well, competed against him, and to have him lose his life... is heartbreaking," he said, noting that Bryant will forever be remembered for what he contributed to basketball: "What he meant to the game, what he meant to so many young players striving to be like Kobe Bryant."

"The determination, the way he played, the competitor he was, wanting to be the best player in the world, wanting to win championships — those are some of the great things we'll remember about him," Walker said.