Richard Sherman, waiting for KC, reminisces about Kobe

© Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

MIAMI — This time Richard Sherman had the stage to himself, as if it ever seems to matter. He’s one of a kind, a man who can talk a great game and play an even greater one, who went from the tough streets of Compton to the campus of elite Stanford and then to star in pro football.

He’ll swarm an opposing receiver. He’ll pester the NFL hierarchy. He looks lean but hits hard. And as someone once said about the basketball great Bill Russell, winning just follows him around.

Sherman was in two Super Bowls with the Seattle Seahawks and now he’s in a third with the San Francisco 49ers, hardly a coincidence.

“Richard is one of the smarter players I’ve been around,” said Kyle Shanahan, who in part because of Sherman’s play and leadership will be coaching the San Francisco 49ers against Kansas City on Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.

“He’s more than he’s portrayed,” Shanahan said, meaning beyond what we see and hear, the image, the boasting, there’s a serious young man who is a father to a 5-year-old as well as a top athlete.

“He knows how go play football,” said Shanahan, which is an ultimate compliment. “He is very articulate and knows when to take his shots.”

For sports, for society, this has been a bittersweet week, particularly for Sherman, who became friends with Kobe Bryant, although at 32, nine years younger.

On the 49er charter Sunday en route to the Super Bowl, Sherman was notified about the helicopter crash outside Los Angeles in which Bryant, his daughter and seven others were killed.

"It is really sad," Sherman told ESPN when the Niners appeared at what the NFL calls Opening Night. "He was a friend of mine. He was a mentor. He meant a lot to this world. He made a positive impact.”

Some 48 hours later, the headlines and TV news expanding as more reports of the accident and an emotional letter from Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, was made public, Sherman sought perspective.

“He wouldn’t want us to sit and mourn,” Sherman said about Bryant. “He would like us to have conversations. He was a great man, He was known for his basketball. He would want to be known for more than that.”

Indeed, in southern California, where Bryant played his entire pro career with the Los Angeles Lakers, and where Sherman began to follow him when barely into high school, Kobe transcended sport.

He was as famous as any entertainment figure. Probably more famous. Jack Nicholson sat in the first row at Lakers games cheering Bryant. The connection in LA between Hollywood stars and sports stars is virtually as old as the movie industry.

Sherman’s mother took him to Lakers games. If all of southern California idolized Kobe, well, why wouldn’t he? In time, Sherman, as a pro, would join Bryant on the Nike payroll. The two became friends.

When Sherman tore his Achilles in 2017 with the Seahawks, he deliberately hobbled off the field on his own because he thought of Bryant doing it a few years earlier when Kobe tore his Achilles against the Warriors.

“I asked him to play in my charity softball game,” said Sherman. “He said he never had played baseball or softball. The first at bat he hits a home run.

“When I was going to be introduced to Kobe, somebody said I would be disappointed with him. It was just the opposite. He exceeded all my expectations.”

The expectations about Sherman are of a different nature. Niners fans, knowing the potent Kansas City passing attack, are hoping Sherman and the rest of the defense can control the game.

“The league wants offense,” Sherman said, “a lot of points. We’ll have to try and overcome that.”

The difficult week continues for Richard Sherman.