Kobe Bryant 'transcends basketball': 49ers react to hearing of NBA legend's death before departing for Super Bowl

MIAMI (KGO) -- After waking up from sleeping on a plane for five hours, I was instantly choked with anxiety when I realized it wasn't a bad dream. Kobe Bryant is really gone.

I obviously didn't know him but I already miss him. It feels so real - that sting in your chest and burn in your eyes because you want to cry.

WATCH IN 60 SECONDS: Warriors remember Kobe Bryant, 49ers land in Miami before Super Bowl

I know I'm one of millions to feel this way. My favorite all-time athlete passed away, and I learned about it as I was boarding the plane to cover the first Super Bowl of my career.

Turns out, the 49ers were finding out right about the same time.

When we got to Miami, you could feel that everyone was affected. Almost every player at Super Bowl Opening Night wanted to talk about what Kobe meant meant to them.

He was just 41-years-old. He had so much more to give the world and it's painful thinking how we won't get to see the rest of his Mamba magic his life definitely had to offer - All the 49ers players agreed - he was more than just basketball.

"He transcended basketball," 49ers' linebacker Fred Warner said.

RELATED: Respect for Kobe Bryant prompts NBA to postpone Lakers-Clippers game after deadly helicopter crash

It's true. Kobe had a brilliant and beautiful mind. I once heard a story that he interviewed Heath Ledger to ask him how he got into character to play the Joker as authentically as he did. He respected the actor's work and wanted to see if there was anything he could apply to basketball.

He once won an Academy Award for best animated short film. He retires from the NBA with all these rings and almost immediately wins a prestigious award in an entirely different industry - an award that some people work their whole lives for and can never achieve. Everything Kobe Bryant touched was gold.

"It's that Mamba mentality everyone talks about... his work ethic and determination," Warner said.

He had a way of connecting with people. And he could do so in several languages in which he was fluent. People look up to him not just because he's a basketball role model, but because he was real. He made millions of people feel like they knew him personally, like his messages were crafted just for them.

"Kobe has been influential in countless of people's lives, all over the world," said defensive end Arik Armstead.

He was good at every sport he tried. I've seen videos of him "just messing around" with a soccer ball with World Cup players and keeping up, effortlessly juggling the ball like he could have started a soccer career right then if he wanted.

"His competitive nature is matched by no one," said tight end George Kittle.

"He was truly a legend," said running back Raheem Mostert. "He was immortal. Everyone saw him as a person that was immortal," he said.

Above all else, he gave the world a vision of a father figure people could respect and say, "that's what a great dad looks like."

"Learning more about the type of father and husband that he was and it's amazing and inspiring for my life," Armstead said.

George Kittle says besides his parents, Kobe was his idol as a kid.

He wore number 24 in football and basketball and wore Kobe Bryant's shoes.

"I still have my high school Kobe Bryant shoes that I customized for my high school team," he said.

They were snakeskin, he said. No doubt a tribute to Bryant's nickname, "The Black Mamba."

My personal favorite Kobe memory(aside from him draining two free throws with a torn Achilles), is when I graduated high school. I didn't want to go on a senior trip. It was 2010, and I wanted to see Kobe win the NBA Championship. The weekend after graduation, my brother and I drove from Concord to Los Angeles.

RELATED: Grammys honors Kobe Bryant with Alicia Keys, Boyz II Men tribute performance

We were kids- we didn't have the money to see Game 7 of the NBA Finals! But we somehow figured it out and saw the Lakers beat their historic rival Celtics in person. On the way down I got a speeding ticket for going over 90 mph on I-5 because I was so excited to get there.

The Kobe Bryant era will always be my favorite era of the NBA. The game isn't the same without you. Life won't be the same without you, either.

"He really is a legend," Mostert said. "And I will always be thankful for him."

Watch the video posted above to hear the full responses from players.

Take a look at the latest stories and videos about Super Bowl 2020 here.

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.