As the basketball world grieves the tragic death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, teams and fans around the league continue to search for ways to pay proper respect.
Utah Jazz players Emmanuel Mudiay and Miye Oni will do it by giving up their jersey numbers, as part of a movement that may pave the way for Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24 to be retired league-wide.
Bryant, who along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other people were killed in a helicopter accident on Sunday in California, wore both 8 and 24 during his two decades in the NBA. Both numbers now hang in the rafters at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Mudiay and Oni have joined a handful of other players across the league in changing their jersey numbers out of respect. Mudiay will wear No. 15, a number he wore as a youth. Oni, meanwhile, will wear No. 81.
“It’s definitely tragic and my heart goes out to his family,” Mudiay said.
The Jazz guard said Bryant reached out to him when he first came into the league.
“What he used to say to me, what we would text each other, it meant a lot,” Mudiay said. “I was a young player coming into the league. He saw some similarities as far as being that young. He kind of took me under his wing, told me how the NBA is … and kind of showed me his work habits.”
The Jazz honored Bryant, 41, with a moment of silence before Monday’s game at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
“We are shocked and saddened to learn about [Sunday’s] tragedy involving Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” the Miller family and the Jazz said in a statement. “From the time he entered the league, Kobe was a generational talent and one of the most competitive players in the game. Many athletes in the NBA today grew up emulating Kobe. The impact he has made on our sport will not be forgotten. We respect his dedication to the game and unmatched work ethic. Our thoughts and prayers are with Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, their family and those close to them.”