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Kobe inspired Australia's young NBA stars

In early 2014 Dante Exum was 18, had just graduated from his Canberra high school and was living a surreal life preparing for the NBA Draft on courts south of Los Angeles.

The teenager's practice partner was Kobe Bryant.

Exum idolised Bryant growing up in Australia and suddenly the teenager found himself shooting hoops and receiving words of wisdom from the Los Angeles Lakers great.

It was Bryant's agent Rob Pelinka who beat America's top sports agents for Exum's signature and Pelinka set the master up with his new Australian recruit.

Exum soaked up every drop of advice Bryant offered.

"What he basically said to me was, 'There's going to be a lot of off-court distractions and how you handle those and focus on basketball is how long you'll stay in the league'," Exum told AAP back in 2014.

"He said to have fun at some point because I'm still young but just know what your goals are and why you are here."

Bryant, 41, died with his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others, including the pilot, when their helicopter crashed into a hillside in foggy conditions in the western LA suburb of Calabasas on Sunday.

His death rocked the sports world and LA, a metropolis used to celebrity tragedy.

Bryant was a god in the City of Angels and his star status shined brighter than any Oscar or Grammy winner.

Angelenos worshipped him for the five NBA championships he brought them and the fact he spent every one of his 20 years in the NBA with the Lakers.

He was worshipped by Australia's new wave of NBA stars too.

"Can't Be!!" Australian-raised Detroit Pistons forward Thon Maker wrote on Twitter after news broke Bryant was dead.

"The world lost a legend today," Melbourne-born Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons wrote on Twitter.

"Kobe Bryant was someone who I looked up to, a fierce competitor, a champion, an icon."

Bryant kept a keen interest in Exum and Simmons.

When Exum tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee playing for Australian in Europe in 2015 Bryant, who overcame multiple serious injuries including a torn Achilles and fractured knee, offered encouragement.

"Dante is a fantastic young player," he said.

"I think he will bounce back.

"I think he'll just be fine."

When Simmons emerged as the likely number one pick of the 2016 NBA Draft there was a strong chance the Lakers could end up with the Australian prodigy.

Bryant was preparing for his farewell season and said if Simmons did become a Laker he would not be handing the Australian the keys to the Laker kingdom.

In true blunt Bryant style he said Simmons would have to earn them and warned Laker fans expected championships and Simmons would have to deliver them.

"If you don't win a championship the season is a failure," Bryant said.

"If you have that attitude this city will absolutely love you and you'll get this team back to playing and winning at a level it is accustomed to."

Another Australian, Joe Ingles, was on the receiving end of Bryant's grand NBA finale.

On April 13, 2016, Ingles' Utah Jazz were at the Lakers' Staples Center to play in Bryant's final game.

LA was buzzing and courtside seats were selling for more than $US20,000 each.

It appeared Bryant would leave the NBA with a dismal thud as the Jazz led most of the game and held a 12-point lead with nine minutes left but the champion would not bow out that way.

He dropped a barrage of three-pointers, finished with 60 points and the Lakers won 101-96.

Bryant outscored the Jazz 23-21 in the final quarter.

In the locker room after Ingles and his Jazz team-mates were stunned.

"He made some tough shots," Ingles laughed in a chat with AAP.

Bryant the champion ended his career in true Hollywood style.

"A perfect ending would have been a championship but tonight it was about going out and putting on a show as good as I could," he said.

© AAP 2020