Bryant’s death has plunged the basketball world into an extended state of mourning.
“My reaction is the same as almost all of L.A.,” actor Jack Nicholson, a courtside regular at Lakers games, told KCBS-TV in Los Angeles. “Suddenly, where everything was solid, there’s a big hole in the wall. I was so used to seeing and talking to Kobe that — it kills you. It’s just a terrible event.”
Athletes, too, were still struggling to process the news. “Still in disbelief,” Paul Pierce, one of Bryant’s NBA contemporaries, tweeted Monday.
Caron Butler, who played alongside Bryant in 2004-05 with the Lakers, said when he first heard the news of the crash Sunday, he kept dialing Bryant's phone, hoping for a response. Butler’s voice quivered and tears began to wet his cheek in a CNN interview as he recalled their relationship and the mentorship Bryant so often provided.
“He always made time even when he didn’t have time,” he said. “I think that’s the beauty of Kobe Bryant. I know right now people are focusing on the legacy of numbers, and I want to step away from numbers and just talk about him as a human being. He was a special man. He was a special father. He’s an incredible husband, an incredible brother and mentor."
The Lakers, who were informed of Bryant’s death as they traveled back to Los Angeles after a Saturday night loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, were in shock.
“There were lots of tears, disbelief and shock,” said a person who was on the plane when the news broke. “Everyone was reading Twitter and hoping the first reports weren’t true.”
Video footage of LeBron James, overcome by emotion, surfaced after the Lakers’ flight landed Sunday, but the superstar forward and his teammates largely participated in a social media blackout that lasted more than 24 hours. James finally broke his silence with an Instagram post Monday night.
“[I’m] sitting here trying to write something for this post,” James wrote, “but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! … Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man!”
Breaking from typical custom after the death of a notable figure, the Lakers did not issue a formal news release Sunday. Their official website and social media accounts remained dormant throughout Sunday and well into Monday, even as other NBA teams posted condolences and as thousands of fans descended upon Staples Center to celebrate Bryant’s life and 20-year career with the Lakers.
The team eventually released a brief statement Monday evening announcing the postponement of Tuesday’s game and acknowledging Sunday’s tragedy.
“In consultation with the NBA league office, the game scheduled between the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Tuesday, January 28 will be postponed and scheduled for a future date,” the statement read. “The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences. This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family and will share more information as it is available.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced the deaths of Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna in a prepared statement. When Silver issued his statement shortly after 5 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, he confirmed reports that Gianna Bryant had died, even though local authorities in California had not yet released the names of the victims.
The NBA league office, meanwhile, faced a major logistical dilemma as word of Bryant’s death spread early Sunday afternoon. There were eight games on the schedule, including one that tipped at 3:30 p.m. Eastern time.
With the Toronto Raptors and San Antonio Spurs already undergoing their typical warmup routines, the league decided to continue with the games as scheduled, even as players and coaches appeared to be exhibiting clear signs of grief.
“The minute we found out, you could tell all the energy went out of the locker room,” New Orleans Pelicans Coach Alvin Gentry said before his team took the court Sunday evening. “There’s basketball but there’s also life, and this is real life.”
The NBA received no formal requests from teams to postpone Sunday’s games, a person with direct knowledge of the situation said. Out of respect to the players and coaches, the league allowed its teams to cancel pregame media availability sessions for players and to defer all player interviews until after the games.
Weighing on the postponement decision was the difficulty involved in rescheduling so many games and the complicated nature of making a judgment call on a tragedy that could stand as precedent in the future. Another factor was Bryant’s dedication to the game; decision-makers who knew him well believed he would have wanted the show to go on.
“There was a brief conversation about canceling,” the person familiar with league thinking said, “but it didn’t reach a critical mass. It wasn’t seriously considered.”
The league has, in rare cases, altered its schedule in response to tragedies. For example, a Boston Celtics home game was canceled in 2013 shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing.
The Lakers have plans to honor Bryant with a video tribute at a forthcoming game, according to a person with the team. The NBA is still exploring options to honor Bryant, but a person with knowledge of the league’s thinking said his status as a “Hall of Fame-caliber player” entitled him to “a special sort of recognition.”