ORLANDO – Titans running back Derrick Henry was in the locker room, getting prepared to play in his first Pro Bowl here on Sunday, when news came that shook him to the core.
And he didn't want to believe it.
"Kobe (died)?," Henry said to himself. "This can't be real."
One report after another confirmed the terrible news: NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter were among several people killed in a helicopter crash in California on Sunday.
Bryant was 41 years old, and Henry's all-time favorite player.
"It's indescribable," Henry said on the field at Camping World Stadium after the Pro Bowl. "Kobe is my favorite athlete of all-time. I have four or five of his jerseys. I still don't want to believe it. I guess it will really hit me when I get home and look at all my jerseys. It is so sad. He is a legend, an icon. And to hear his oldest daughter was with him, I can't even put it into words. It's so sad."
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill also found out in the locker room before the game.
Later on Sunday, Bryant's photo was displayed on the video board at the stadium, with his name and 1978-2020 underneath an image of him in a Lakers uniform.
"It's so tragic," Tannehill said. "I was a huge Kobe fan, Mamba, I loved his game, his mentality. I loved watching him play. I was shocked when I heard it, and so saddened. We were in the locker room when some of the guys told me, and it didn't feel real.
"It's just a tragic situation and it just lets you know how precious life is. You never know when it's your time, how long you have. There's a couple of times this year I have been reminded of that, first with my wife's father passing (in October), and now this. It makes you kind of take a step back and think how precious life is. You have to take advantage of every day and cherish every moment you get with the ones you love. This is a really sad day for sure."
Bryant, an 18-time All-Star with the Lakers, is fourth on the NBA's all-time scoring list with 33,643 points. Bryant won two NBA Finals MVP awards and was a five-time NBA champion while playing from 1996-2016 with the Lakers.
According to reports, Bryant was on his way to a travel basketball game with his daughter Gianna Bryant, who was 13, when the helicopter crashed. There were no survivors in the crash.
Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who is from Long Beach, California, always respected Bryant.
"To hear the tragic news of him and his family, it is definitely devastating," Casey said. "I'm going to keep him and his family in our prayers, it's all we can do at this moment. I have great respect for Kobe."
Titans punter Brett Kern said Bryant was always "must-see TV."
"Any time Kobe was on TV, I was watching," Kern said. "It's still hard for me to believe it. It's going to take a while for it to really settle in. You have to pray so hard for his family – I can't imagine going through something like that."
Henry, for one, put his head down as he left the field, after wrapping up an interview on the topic.
After playing in his first Pro Bowl, a game he was excited to play in, he left the stadium with a sense of sadness, one of his heroes gone too soon.
"It's just so heartbreaking, really," Henry said. "Prayers out to his family. It's sometimes hard to understand the meaning of God's plan, but you have to trust what He is doing. It is so tragic. May (Kobe) rest in peace."