MIAMI — For a brief moment last July, Saquon Barkley wasn’t the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, the face of the Giants or a television commercial star.
He was a Kobe Bryant fan – pouring out his respect in a video for the Uninterrupted – who just had his boyhood idol tweet at him (“Love my brotha #yourturn #mambamentality”) for all to see.
“He responded when I was in bed and I screamed,” Barkley told The Post.
Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash Sunday, along with his daughter Gianna and seven other victims, shook up the sports world and Barkley paused twice in his discussion with The Post on Super Bowl 2020 Radio Row to control his emotions when discussing the late 41-year-old NBA star.
“Big inspiration to me,” Barkley said. “Unfortunately I never got to meet him, but he had a big impact on me and the type of player I hopefully continue to be. I love everything he is about: The Mamba Mentality.”
What does that mean to Barkley?
“You have a relentless approach,” Barkley said. “You find something you are passionate about and want to be great at. And you don’t just talk about it, you go and do it. You get to the point where you get others around you to do it, too. I think he did that the best out of anyone.”
Bryant was a five-time NBA champion and the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history.
“It’s been amazing how everyone has responded and the impact that he had – the impact on kids,” Barkley said. “I said on my video, ‘I hope one day I can even have half the impact you have on people.’ It’s sad to see him go, and rest in peace to his daughter, Gigi. Devastating.”
That was the other layer of Bryant’s death that struck Barkley, a 22-year-old father of a soon-to-be two-year-old daughter.
“It definitely hits you on a whole other level,” Barkley said. “The first thing I wanted to do was call my daughter and tell her I love her. You should never take anything for granted in this world. You have to try to live life to the fullest.”
A new viral Twitter hashtag exploded in the last few days: #Girldad. It was born out of a story “SportsCenter” anchor Elle Duncan told on-air about meeting Bryant while pregnant and the pride he displayed in his four daughters. Gianna was 13 and one of four daughters Bryant had.
“Those little girls that you have,” Barkley said, “your heart is different.”
Barkley will carry Bryant’s message forward.
“Try to go 10 times harder in everything you are doing,” Barkley said, “because you never know when it can be taken from you.”
For more on the Kobe Bryant tragedy, listen to the latest episode of the “Big Apple Buckets” podcast: