Gordon Idolized Kobe During Childhood

Magic forward heartbroken over tragedy
by John Denton

MIAMI – Despite growing up just 40 miles south of Oakland’s Oracle Arena, the former home of the Golden State Warriors, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon instead rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers as a teen primarily because the larger-than-life persona and unflappable will of Kobe Bryant.

When Gordon got to spend a few days talking basketball and life with Bryant at his famed Mamba Basketball Academy this past summer, he got to live out a dream he never thought possible as a kid. When word begin to spread of Bryant’s death on Sunday, Gordon immediately thought back to his childhood idolization of Bryant and how the real thing from this past summer lived up to his dreams.

``Kobe and I have had some interactions over the years and had become acquaintances, and this past summer it really felt like he was starting to develop a mentorship with me,’’ Gordon said of Bryant, who along with 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., on Sunday. ``It was a beautiful thing as was some of the things he was teaching us about the game of basketball and the game of life. He’s a very unique individual and a fierce competitor. It’s just sad, personally and selfishly, that I don’t get to develop a relationship with him.’’

Even though he got to face him late in his career and drill with him this past summer, Gordon said he’ll always remember Bryant by his performances against the Warriors when a wide-eyed Gordon looked on from the crowd. The inspiration that Gordon drew from Bryant, he said, helped him ultimately reach the NBA.

``Being a Cali kid and growing up watching him play, everybody wanted to be like Kobe. He was a special player,’’ Gordon said. ``I remember going to games when he’d play the Warriors and he’d put on a show. It was inspiring and I’ll always remember him for that. It’s just really sad what happened to him.’’

VIC LAW’S NBA DEBUT: NBA debuts are always special and memorable days for players, but Vic Law’s first NBA game took on a downright surreal feeling on Sunday what with players mourning Bryant’s shocking death in the hours before tipoff.

``Getting to the gym and just being excited to be around the team, and then having the (Bryant) news break, it was definitely a roller coaster of emotions,’’ said Law, who was recently converted into a two-way player for the Magic following some stellar play at the G League level. ``It was up and down, but I was definitely blessed to have that opportunity. But at the same time, it was so sad to hear that one of the game’s greats had passed like that.’’

Law, a 6-foot-7 forward from Northwestern, got into Sunday’s game against the Clippers and played the final 70 seconds without attempting a shot. It was an emotional moment for Law, who worked his way to the NBA level by averaging 19.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.04 steals in 28 games with the Lakeland Magic at the G League level.

``It was surreal, a wave of emotion, butterflies and excitement – a little bit of everything,’’ Law said of checking into his first NBA game. ``But for me it’s about one step at a time, one game at a time and trying to get closer to the ultimate dream.’’

Law said Sunday likely wouldn’t have been possible without the improvement that he made at the G League level. He said the promotion to the NBA level was a commitment by the Magic that has spurred him to continue to work toward improving.

``Being a more consistent shooter, seeing the floor better and letting the game come to me,’’ Law said of his progress. ``That let the game slow down for me and then I could see everything on the floor instead of it all just going 100 miles an hour. … (Being promoted to the NBA) just means that I’ve got a responsibility to prove them right and keep producing.’’

FINDING A THIRD SCORER: Other than a few poor performances, the Magic have known all season what they could count on nightly from leading scorers Evan Fournier (19 points per game) and Nikola Vucevic (18.8 points per game). Fournier has scored in double digits a team-high 42 times and he’s compiled 20 points 19 times. As for Vucevic, he’s had 34 double-digit scoring nights in 36 games, he’s scored 20 points 20 times and he’s had a team-high 23 double-doubles.

It’s finding a consistent third scorer that’s been far more problematic for the Magic all season. When Terrence Ross, Aaron Gordon or Markelle Fultz have played well and given the Magic more scoring punch, the team has usually fared well.

Ross has scored better (15.4 points) and shot better from the floor (43.9 percent) and 3-point range (38.1 percent) in the 20 wins he’s played in than he has in the 25 losses (11.8 points, 36.5 percent overall shooting and 28 percent 3-point shooting).

As for Gordon and Fultz, they have similarly been better in Magic wins than in losses. Gordon’s production in 19 wins (15 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 43.8 percent shooting and 30.7 percent 3-point accuracy) has been superior to what he’s done in the 22 losses he’s played in (11.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists on 40 percent shooting and 26.5 percent 3-point accuracy). Fultz has not only been better in wins (13 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.7 assists) than losses (11.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists), but he’s also been more productive in 23 road games (13.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists) than 23 home games (10.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists).

UP NEXT: After playing a grueling stretch of 18 games in 33 nights and having more than one day of rest between games just once since Dec. 27, the Magic will get a much-needed break the next few days.

The Magic will be off on Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to practice on Thursday and Friday to prepare for Saturday’s home game against the rival Heat.

``I don’t want to make excuses, but tonight is nine (games) in 15 (days) for us, just like everybody else, and it’s 18 in (33), with a ton of travel,’’ Magic coach Steve Clifford said of the grind his team has faced. ``I told them (Sunday) night after the game: Until the Oklahoma City game (on Wednesday), I feel like we’ve played with as much effort as anybody in the league. We’ve played hard, and like a lot of other teams we’ve taken a ton of injuries, and these guys have kept going and have played through it. We played three tired games at home in a row, and yet we could have won all three of them. But we have to find a way (on Monday) and if you can’t find a way to get ready then you are in the wrong business. This is not an excuse league – you get a schedule and you play the games – but I do believe when you are a coach and you’re sitting and watching you have to look at what is in front of you. When I’m watching the film that’s what I see: A tired team. … We get four days off (starting on Tuesday), and we need it.’’

Orlando has already beaten the Heat once this season at the Amway Center. The Magic won 105-85 on Jan. 3 in a game where guard Terrence Ross scored 25 points and drilled six of 10 3-point shots. The Magic ran away with the game in the fourth quarter when it outscored the Heat 21-6 and held Miami to zero-of-10 3-point shooting over the final 12 minutes. Miami’s six points tied for the fewest the Magic have ever allowed in a quarter in the 31-year history of their franchise.

Note: The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Orlando Magic. All opinions expressed by John Denton are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Orlando Magic or their Basketball Operations staff, partners or sponsors.

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