NBA 2020: Kobe Bryant death, LA Lakers return to NBA action, Portland Trail Blazers, reaction
The grief after the tragic and sudden death of Kobe Bryant has been felt across the NBA but no where as much as LA.
Bryant was Los Angeles, playing his entire career for the city and becoming an international superstar on the back as he tallied five championships and put forward a career that will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best.
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Unfortunately, it will also be a life that ended too quickly as he, his daughter Gianna and seven others lost their lives in the helicopter crash.
The city has been in mourning since the loss with the highly anticipated match between the Lakers and Clippers was postponed.
It’s just the 15th time the NBA has postponed a game due to tragic events or for safety reasons or technical issues since 1963.
The last time came in April 2013 when the Boston Celtics game against Indiana was cancelled following the Boston Marathon bombing.
While no one currently in the team can match Bryant’s 20 years of service, Kobe’s ties to the current team are well know
LeBron James has been seen crying and has posted pictures of himself and Kobe several times in recent days as he continues to grapple with the loss.
The four-time NBA MVP and 16-time All-Star said he is “heartbroken and devastated” in the initial post.
Anthony Davis was also one of several players who Bryant mentored that have shared their sadness.
The Lakers’ current star duo both went and got tattoos to remember the legend.
It’s been a devastating time in LA with the fans holding vigils at Staples Centre.
But the game must go on.
The Lakers are set to return to the court on Saturday at 2pm AEDT against the Portland Trail Blazers in what’s bound to be an emotional day.
HOW THE LAKERS RESPONDED
Writing for the LA Times, Tania Ganguli reported many of the Lakers were asleep as they flew home from Philadelphia after a loss to the 76ers on the weekend.
Bryant’s former teammate Dwight Howard was one of the first on board to find out and started circulating the news, according to the Times. Coach Frank Vogel was then briefed and addressed the team.
“They were shocked. Devastated. Speechless,” Ganguli wrote. “LeBron James, who passed Bryant on the league’s all-time scoring list the night before, appeared broken up.”
The Lakers grieved in private until Thursday (AEDT) when first year Lakers coach Frank Vogel fronted the media.
“He was the most feared man in the league for an entire generation,” Vogel said. “The influence is league-wide, basketball community-wide, Lakers family-wide and his influence will be felt forever.
“I’m around the people that were closest to Kobe throughout his time here and it’s been just a deeply saddening time for all of us.
“We want to represent what Kobe was about more than anything. We’ve always wanted to make him proud and that’s not going to be any different here.”
While Vogel didn’t coach Bryant, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was close to the star.
Pelinka was Bryant’s agent before he joined the Lakers front office and released a statement on Friday, saying the loss of his “best friend” and “sweet goddaughter” had “been an amputation of part of my soul”.
“Kobe was a force of nature, deep and obsessed with excellence,” he started. “He was wise, determined, passionate. A visionary beyond measure. A dedicated and loving husband, and a ‘girl-dad’ like no other. When he walked into a room, the energy ignited. He was high voltage, with a motor that had no limits. His mind had an infinite capacity to learn. He was, simply put, the most inspirational athlete of our time. What the world may not know, is that he was also the best friend anyone could ever imagine.
“Gigi was pure joy. Her smile brought comfort to any and every occasion. She was brilliant, kind and warm. And, like her dad, when she stepped onto the basketball court, she took on an entirely different nature, and boy could she play. Her basketball destiny was apparent, and the world knew it. She was also an extraordinary, loyal and supportive sister, and a wonderful friend to my children. My son and daughter always left time with Gigi feeling better about life itself. Everything Gigi stood for, I am so proud of.”
While he paid tribute to all nine of the lost lives, Pelinka also said “their legacies will live on — and gain even more power and influence”.
While the players have not yet spoken to media
HOW THE LEGENDS RESPONDED
Former Lakers GM Jerry West was devastated after the news was revealed.
“One of the worst days of my life,” West admitted. “The only thing I can compare it to is I had a brother killed in Korea. I’m just devastated by this news.
“This was a man for all seasons. He was more than an iconic basketball player. He was someone who inspired millions of fans. Not here in this state, not here in the United States – all over the world. He was beloved … For me, this is a God-awful day.”
West was also on CBS in Los Angeles and said the loss of Bryant was “horrible”.
“I felt like I’ve lost a son. I’m frankly not doing very well,” West admitted.
Similarly, some of the Lakers’ favourite sons shared emotional tributes for Kobe.
My friend, a legend, husband, father, son, brother, Oscar winner and greatest Laker of all-time is gone. It’s hard to accept. Kobe was a leader of our game, a mentor to both male and female players. pic.twitter.com/NXsrXmCkkG
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) January 26, 2020
Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete. pic.twitter.com/9EZuwk8wrV
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) January 26, 2020
Arguably the wound that cut deepest was that of Shaquille O’Neal.
An unstoppable duo for the Lakers, leading the side to three straight championships together, the pair didn’t always see eye-to-eye with several famous stories of clashes.
But the legendary big man said he didn’t believe it could be true on the day, snapping at a nephew who broke the news, until it was confirmed.
“Now I lost a little brother,” Shaq said on the TNT tribute for Bryant, as the rest of the panel including Ernie Johnson, NBA greats Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Dwyane Wade consoled him.
O’Neal said the “final blow” was when he found out Gianna was also among those killed.
Originally published as ‘Broken up’: Los Angeles in mourning