So, in his debut with the Rams, the veteran linebacker honored Bryant by wearing a thigh pad that featured a photo of the late Lakers star.
“He’s one of the first players I watched from start to finish,” Wagner, who grew up in the Inland Empire, said Monday, “and so he was somebody that I looked up to growing up.
“And, obviously, his untimely death hit the world, and I felt like with me coming back to L.A., it was a way to honor somebody that’s done a lot in my life that he didn’t even know.”
Wagner said he met Bryant once through former Seattle Seahawks teammate Richard Sherman. The conversation centered on business, Wagner said.
Mamba Mentality, always. 🤞 pic.twitter.com/2XgCo7Hxso
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) September 13, 2022
“I’ve heard a lot of stories about how he is on the court was exactly how he was in the meeting room and stuff like that,” Wagner said. “When we were sitting there, he was really on every single detail when it came to business.
“I was just really impressed that somebody that spent so many years in one profession was able to transition and be kind of equally feared in the business world because of how smart and how in tune he was.
“So definitely somebody that I was like, ‘Man, I want be inspired to be like that.’ ”
Wagner made seven tackles and had a sack in the Rams' 31-10 season-opening defeat to the Buffalo Bills last Thursday.
It was Wagner’s first game with the Rams after playing 10 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks, all of them with quarterback Russell Wilson.
Wagner was among the interested observers on Monday when Wilson returned to Lumen Field in Seattle with the Denver Broncos.
On the same day in March, the Seahawks traded Wilson to the Broncos and released Wagner. Wilson was booed throughout the Seahawks’ 17-16 victory.
“I think that at the end of the day fans understand that you have your moment and then you move on,” Wagner said when asked about the reception Wilson received. “I think they viewed him as like an opposing quarterback.
“The reception that he got was what any quarterback that’s an opposing quarterback would get.”
The Seahawks victory did not lack for drama. With the Broncos facing a fourth-and-five situation with 20 seconds left, coach Nathaniel Hackett opted for a 64-yard field-goal attempt rather than giving Wilson another play.
“It was just kind of like everybody, in my opinion, everybody in the whole world had the same reaction,” Wagner said. “I think they didn’t expect the game to go that way, and I think everybody kind of expected, you have a guy like Russell to have the ball in his hand towards the end of the game and give him an opportunity to make a play.
“So when it didn’t happen, you were kind of just like wondering why. But at the end of the day, I thought about it for a couple seconds and remembered, ‘I’m a Ram’ and it doesn’t affect me, so it is what it is.' ”
Wagner will return to Seattle with the Rams for the regular-season finale on Jan. 8.
“As far as like my reception, I’m not sure,” Wagner said when asked what he anticipated, adding, “they could be feeling a different type of way.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.