A FORMER opponent of Kobe Bryant, Dubliner Emmet Donnelly, has paid tribute to the US basketball legend who was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday.
Donnelly, who faced Bryant in a 1996 Pennsylvania state schools quarter-final, expressed his sorrow at the passing of the 41-year-old former LA Lakers star, whose daughter Gianna (13) also perished in the incident.
"It was a shock. You think a supreme athlete like that is indestructible but it got worse when the details came through about his daughter being on board," he said.
"On a human level, and because I am the father of two girls myself, I find it very sad.
"Obviously, having crossed paths with Kobe once upon a time it means something. My condolences go out to the family."
A 17-year-old Donnelly, who moved to the United States to play basketball in his last year of second-level education, lost to Bryant's Lower Merion High School playing for Stroudsburg.
The former Irish basketball international, who is a brother of former Dublin footballer Karl Donnelly, says that even at that early age the future NBA All-Star shone brightly.
"The talk was that he was to declare straight for the NBA draft (from high school) which is really rare so it was a big deal," Donnelly recalled.
"I was pitted against him. My job was to make him shoot from outside as much as possible and shoot over me. Even then, he was five inches taller than me.
"He nailed a three-pointer right in my face with the first play so that set the tone. Overall, I was happy with how I did. He only scored 30-something points."
Donnelly returned to Ireland to play for Saint Vincent's after completing his college studies in computers in the US.
While he would go on to win the Irish Super League in 2006 and represent his country, Bryant scored 33,643 points, earning the Lakers five NBA championships over his 20-season career.
Donnelly, who has since hung up his playing boots, heard from his American friends after the tragic news broke on Sunday.
"My high school coach from the States was one of the first people to contact me. He sent me those photos (of Kobe and I). My wife couldn't believe it last night either when I showed her the photos. She said, 'That's not you'. It definitely is.
"But back to Kobe, it's very tragic for his family. Basketball is second to that, but what an impact he had in a short life."
Kobe Bryant was hailed as an "extraordinary" athlete, devoted father and an inspiration to millions around the world after the basketball great died in a helicopter crash at the age of 41.