By Agence France-Presse
The NBA grappled with the sudden death of league great Kobe Bryant on Sunday, players taking to courts across the country before they even had time to properly absorb the news.
A haunting moment of silence preceded the Houston Rockets’ game against the Nuggets in Denver, which tipped off just hours after the helicopter crash in suburban Los Angeles in which Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among five who perished.
In San Antonio, where the Spurs hosted the reigning champion Toronto Raptors, both teams took 24-second shot-clock violations on their first possessions of the game in honor of Bryant — who wore the number 24 in the later years of his career.
Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers fought back tears as he spoke to reporters before his team took on the Magic in Orlando.
“We’re all Lakers right now,” Rivers said, calling himself “lucky” to have had a chance to coach against Bryant — who won five NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He was such a great opponent,” Rivers said. “It’s what you want in sports. He had that DNA that very few athletes can ever have — the Tiger Woodses and Michael Jordans.
“Looking at my young players and seeing how devastated they are — they knew him — this is just shocking news for us. I have to go talk to a team before a game and tell them to go play — and I can’t,” Rivers said as he lost his battle to hold back his tears.
“This is a great loss for the league. I thought he had so much more left to do and he was starting to do it. I had never seen him happier.”
Eight NBA games were scheduled on Sunday, and the prevailing mood in every arena was shock.
“I don’t know where you could even start,” said New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry before his team’s game against the Boston Celtics.
“Great competitor, great guy, great father. Just really a sad, sad day for the NBA.
“He was all about winning championships. The individual accolades and the numbers didn’t mean anything to him if you didn’t win championships. That’s just the competitiveness that he had that’s what I’ll always remember.
“He competed at such a high, high level every night he was out there.
“It’s a huge loss for anybody that’s been involved in this league at all.”