One of the most tragic days ever for the NBA and sporting community transpired on Sunday, Jan. 26 with the sudden loss of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter accident near Calabasas, CA.
On Monday morning, the Charlotte Hornets held their first practice since returning from their game against the Milwaukee Bucks in Paris, which took place last Friday night. Much like everyone else around the world, it’s been difficult to comprehend the magnitude of the loss of such an iconic figure.
“When I got started with the Trail Blazers in 2008, there was a big rivalry between us and the Lakers at that time,” recalled Nic Batum. “My first NBA game ever was against Kobe. The first time I got on the court, I had to guard Kobe Bryant. That’s my first memory is that guy. He put an iso on me because I was a 19-year-old kid. He’s just meant so much to the game for the last 20, 25 years. He’s going to have an impact forever.”
“He had everything. He was strong. His footwork was amazing. His strength was amazing. His fadeaways, his first steps. If he wanted to kill you, he was going to kill you. LeBron is amazing, KD, T-Mac all those guys were great, but Kobe was a killer. He wanted to kill you like he had something against you. I don’t know how to describe it. He wanted to win more than anyone. He was a champion.”
Assistant Head Coach Jay Triano ran Monday’s workout with Head Coach James Borrego nursing an illness. Triano was an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors when Bryant scored 81 points in a single game back in 2006 and a member of the US National Team staff leading into the 2008 Summer Olympics.
“At the time, you almost pinch yourself in the fourth quarter,” Triano recalled when asked about the 81-point game. “Our whole strategy when he was making plays for others was to make him be a scorer. We might have even had the lead after the third and he had 50. We were debating do we stop a guy from scoring more than 50 or do we try and win the game? We stayed with our thing. We just didn’t expect him to get 31 in the fourth. He was just in that zone where it didn’t matter what we did. He was going to find a way to score. It was one of the greatest sporting events that I’ve seen.”
“I’ll remember sitting on the bus with the US select team [in 2007]. [Kobe and I] were kind of sitting beside each other and he said to me one time, ‘What’d you do last night?’ and I said, ‘I’m preparing to play Uruguay because you guys are going to have to play them in the qualification.’ He responded, ‘Well they have…’, and he named three players and I said, ‘How do you know three players from Uruguay?’ and he goes, ‘Well, we’re going to have to play them.’ He already done his research and that set the tone for me.”
Marvin Williams, now in his 15th NBA season, added, “Obviously, I’ll remember the winner that he was, the champion that he was. I think the thing that hurts me the most is just seeing the father that he was. As someone that has two young girls and knowing that he’s not going to get an opportunity to see them grow up, I think that hurts me the most.”
“I remember the first time I ever had a one-on-one interaction with him. I was in Atlanta and we had played the Lakers the night before. We came in the next day and I saw a guy in the weight room who I had never seen before. He looked around the weight room and said, ‘Hey, Kobe wants to lift.’ It was early, really, really early. Kobe came in, said what’s up to everyone and started his routine. Maybe two hours later, he’s still going. He was a hero to all of us, especially my generation.”
“For me, it was Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson and LeBron,” said Miles Bridges. “I actually met him twice. The first time was for a picture at the Nike Skills Academy when I was 16. LeBron, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan, all of those guys were there, but once Kobe walked in the gym, everybody just stopped and started watching him. When he was talking, everybody was listening.”
“The second time I met him, I was working out with Kyle Kuzma at the Lakers facility and he just walked past us and I was like, ‘Yo, Kobe! How you doing?’ I told him I was getting ready for the draft and working hard and he said, ‘Good. That’s what I like to hear.’ It was just great for me to be able to meet him. It’s a tough loss for the NBA and the world.
Perhaps not since Magic Johnson’s abrupt retirement following a positive HIV diagnosis in 1991 has the NBA been so collectively shocked and sadden by such an event as Bryant’s passing. The league is dealing with an indefinite sense of mourning and grief at the moment, with many still trying to wrap their heads around what happened. Regardless of whenever the pieces are finally picked up, there will never be another Kobe Bryant, an individual who left an immeasurable legacy on the sport forever.