For one Long Island native, the stunning news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Sunday brought to mind a moment they shared nearly two decades ago.
In 2002, Amityville High School senior Jason Fraser was considered one of the top basketball prospects in the country. Dozens of NBA scouts and major college coaches were vying for his services.
It turned out, even Bryant delivered an impromptu recruiting pitch.
The Los Angeles Lakers star was the emcee of a Manhattan news conference to announce the finalists for the McDonald's High School All-American game. The 6-10 Fraser was one of the few players invited by the game's organizers for the announcement.
After the news conference finished and photographers were jockeying for position to capture Bryant’s exit from the dais, the two passed each other briefly.
Only a few years in age separated them, but they lived in different worlds. Bryant was a two-time NBA champion about to win another, and Fraser was a somewhat unusual NBA recruit, more along the lines of a happy-go-lucky high school senior who filled his free time by starring in school plays.
It was in that moment that Bryant jumped at the opportunity to get a message across.
“There was a lot of commotion as we walked away from the mics,” Fraser recalled by phone on Monday, “and we had a moment where he looked at me, he smiled and he spoke through his teeth to me and said, ‘You know, the Lakers could use a power forward.'
"It was one of those things that seemed so surreal that all you do is just laugh, because it doesn’t feel like it’s happening,” Fraser said. “I mean, I was just a kid then having fun playing ball and here’s Kobe telling me he could use me on his team.”
Bryant had made the jump directly from high school to the NBA just a few years earlier, one of the first major players to have done so.
And it wasn't all that far-fetched to think Fraser would do the same. At the time, Fraser was torn over the decision about his future, saying publicly he would go only if he was told he was a guaranteed lottery pick.
Still, all of that escaped his mind the moment Bryant wooed him.
He said Monday it took all he had simply to withhold laughter at the absurdity of what was happening.
"I think I just smiled at him," Fraser said. "I mean, that was just so cool."
Ultimately, despite Bryant’s recruiting pitch, Fraser opted for college over the pros, choosing Villanova. Although he played four years there, his athletic potential was never met, his career hampered by injuries to his feet and knees. There was no talk of the NBA when he graduated.
Fraser eventually broke into the NBA coaching ranks, working in player development roles for the San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns. But two years ago, he stepped away from that to become a high school coach in Phoenix, opting for the stability of being home with his wife, Tashay, and two children.
As he processed Bryant's death on Sunday and how committed Bryant had seemed toward being involved in his children's activities, Fraser, 36, said he felt good about his own decision to work and coach at a local school, allowing him the opportunity to be home more for his children.
And while Fraser said he never did have another one-on-one conversation with Bryant beyond the normal exchange of pleasantries, he doesn’t mind.
Following the news of Bryant’s death Sunday, Fraser’s high school coach at Amityville, Jack Agostino, sent him a picture of it via a text and said, “Remember this?”
Of course he did.
“Looking back, I had the presence of mind to know, this isn’t normal, this isn’t sinking in the way it should,” Fraser said. “I imagine it’s what you’d feel like if you won the lotto, you know?”