CLEVELAND — Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant met and interacted with thousands of people during his 20-year career in the NBA, and he always made it a point to let those whom he appreciated that they were loved right back.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers director of security, Marvin Cross, was one of whom Bryant made a point of seeing when he returned to Cleveland because the two struck up a friendship during their time together with Team USA.

Days after Bryant’s tragic passing in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, Cross spoke with 3News about the memories he had of the NBA’s fourth all-time leading scorer.

“When I first heard, I couldn’t believe it, and so, I texted his security guy and a couple other guys I know that work with him,” Cross said in an exclusive interview with 3News. “I couldn’t get them, and I was like, ‘Wow.’

“It was devastating to see that, and then, to see his daughter with him and seven other people, you just felt so bad for everyone.”

Anytime Bryant stepped onto a basketball court, he was the ultimate competitor who accepted nothing but the best effort, no matter if it was a training camp practice in Hawaii or the deciding game in the NBA Finals with a championship hanging in the balance.

Bryant’s relentless pursuit of perfection and his homage letter to the game of basketball upon his retirement inspired a generation in what has become known as “The Mamba Mentality.” Cross saw that work ethic first-hand, often accompanying Bryant to the gym for pre-practice workouts.

“When he was at the gym, you just saw how hard he’d work out,” Cross said. “We’d be cracking jokes a little bit, but he was just constantly working hard. When he was on that floor, even in practice, man, he played hard.

“When you saw him, it made other people play hard too because they were like, ‘if I go out there half-stepping, you’re going to get it stuck to you,’ so guys were real serious about working on their craft. That’s what he does. He made sure he worked on his craft.”

In his final game in Cleveland in February of 2016, Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant looks to drive against former Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James

Bryant played his final game in Cleveland in February of 2016, but before he took the court at then-Quicken Loans Arena and despite plenty of media obligations, the 18-time NBA All-Star made time to greet Cross with a hug and talk about retirement and looking forward to spending more time with his wife, Vanessa, and their four children.

Bryant followed up that meeting with a gift, delivered to Cross’ home about a month later. Bryant sent Cross an autographed photo of himself and LeBron James showing off their Olympic gold medals.

“I took it in, opened it and it was a picture Kobe had sent me that he had signed. I was like, ‘Wow,’” Cross recalled. “It’s unreal. When I showed it to LeBron, he was like, ‘Oh no. How’d you get this? I said, “Man, just sign the picture,’ so he signed it, too.”

It is memories like receiving that gift that brings Cross comfort in the wake of Bryant’s passing, as well as the loss of his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, and the seven other souls who were lost in the tragedy.

“He just had that drive,” Cross said. “There are some people, like in business, where they work hard at it, and that’s why he’s one of the best because he worked hard at it