Cards slugger meets Lakers star prior to Thursday’s game in Miami.
They’re both champions. They’re both MVPs. Heck, they’re both Nike pitchmen. Yet until Thursday night, Albert Pujols and Kobe Bryant had never met.
Now, in addition to everything else, they’re both members of a mutual admiration society.
Pujols, along with several Cardinals teammates, made the trip down to Miami on Thursday to watch the Lakers-Heat NBA game at AmericanAirlines Arena. Most of the teammates — a group that included diehard Lakers fan Brendan Ryan, Joe Mather, Yadier Molina and Ruben Gotay — got photos with Bryant, the Lakers’ superstar. But Pujols actually sat down and talked with him for a good long while prior to the tilt.
“I did talk with Kobe,” Pujols said. “I got there about 5:30, watching practice for about an hour and a half. It’s just amazing, his preparation. When he was done, he was generous enough to come and sit down with me and [my son] A.J., and start talking about preparation and success and a little bit of everything. We kind of exchanged information. He told me to keep in touch and he would like to keep talking.
“What got him so successful is what [made me] so successful. Even though it’s a different sport, I respect players like him and the success that he’s had in his career. You’re talking about a guy that won four championship titles, one of the best in the game right now, probably the best. Him and LeBron James and [Dwyane Wade], they’re just on a different level.”
Pujols did also get a chance to chat briefly with Wade, the star of the Heat, but much less extensively. Pujols’ son had his photo taken with Wade, but the interaction was brief. Not so with Bryant.
“As soon as I walked in, I had my hat and he knew who I was,” Pujols said. “He was shooting around, so I said, ‘Hello,’ and then he came and sat down and talked. I wasn’t counting the time, but it was around 20-25 minutes. My little boy was so excited. He had his Kobe Bryant shoes. [Bryant was] really humble, man. Really nice guy. It was pretty special, seeing my little boy excited like that. I appreciate the Heat and the Lakers for taking care of us.”
them a perfect vantage point for Bryant’s game-tying shot that forced overtime. Mather and Ryan were about 15 rows up. Miami eventually beat Los Angeles, 114-111.
However, Pujols didn’t see all that much of the game — he was too busy responding to text messages from friends. It was the afternoon session, and the chat with Bryant, that stuck with him the most.
“I even told Kobe, you don’t have to sit down here, go and prepare yourself,” he said. “It’s amazing, man. The guy took about, I can’t count how many shots. He took close to 300, 400 shots. The workout that they have to do in the morning is just amazing.”
It was possible for Pujols to be at the game so early because he sat out the Cardinals’ Thursday afternoon game in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He made his game debut on Friday at home, going 0-for-2 but hitting the ball hard and picking up a sacrifice fly in the Cardinals’ 7-3 loss. Manager Tony La Russa wasn’t in much of a mood for chit-chat after the game, but even in defeat, he admitted that the Pujols-Bryant meeting was a special thing.
“It would be nice to be a fly on the wall,” he said.