In Atlanta, Hawks guard Trae Young temporarily changed his own jersey from its usual No. 11 to No. 8 for a game against the Washington Wizards. After getting the ball off the opening tip, he held it for an 8-second backcourt violation. The Wizards then inbounded the ball and went no further than just inside the midcourt line, incurring a 24-second shot-clock violation.
“It was really hard at the beginning,” Wizards guard Troy Brown Jr. said after the game, “especially during the tribute stuff, the eight seconds and the 24 … It’s just one of those things that’s hard, you know.”
“All the Lessons. All the Advice. Every word you ever told me … Will stick with me forever. Thank You Kobe,” Young tweeted after the game.
In three other games — Los Angeles Clippers-Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns-Memphies Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers-Portland Trail Blazers — a 24-second violation after the opening tip was immediately followed by an 8-second violation.
Three matchups — Toronto Raptors-San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics-New Orleans Pelicans and Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks — saw teams trade 24-second violations to start.
Bryant switched from No. 8 to No. 24 halfway through his career, explaining in 2017 (via ESPN), “When I first came in at 8, is really trying to ‘plant your flag’ sort of thing. I got to prove that I belong here in this league. I’ve got to prove that I’m one of the best in this league. You’re going after them. It’s nonstop energy and aggressiveness and stuff.
“Then 24 is a growth from that. Physical attributes aren’t there the way they used to be, but the maturity level is greater,” Bryant continued, in explaining his move back to a number he wore while starring at his Philadelphia-area high school. “Marriage, kids. Start having a broader perspective being one of the older guys on the team now, as opposed to being the youngest. Things evolve. It’s not to say one is better than the other or one’s a better way to be. It’s just growth.”
One of Bryant’s four daughters, 13-year-old Gianna, a budding basketball star herself, was with him in the helicopter and also died. Nine people in total, including the pilot, were reported to have died in the crash, which occurred in hilly terrain near Los Angeles amid thick fog.
Brooklyn’s Kyrie Irving reportedly left Madison Square Garden after learning of Bryant’s death and did not play in the contest. Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson said the atmosphere in his team’s locker room was unusually “emotional” and “quiet” before the game.
“No one really spoke,” said Atkinson. “Sometimes there are no words, and I didn’t have any words to console them.”
“Everybody is pretty emotional about the tragedy with Kobe,” Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “All of us know what a great player he was, but he went beyond great playing, he was a competitor, that goes unmatched. It’s what made him as a player so attractive to everybody, that focus, that competitiveness, that will to win.
“And even more importantly than that, we all feel a deep sense of loss for what he meant to all of us in so many ways and so many millions of people loved him for so many different reasons. It’s just a tragic thing. There are no words that can describe how everybody feels about it. We are all thinking about the family and the process that they’re going to be going through now. That’s where all our thoughts should be.”
Of the eight NBA games played Sunday, only the first one, a matchup between the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets which tipped off shortly after news of Bryant’s death emerged, did not begin with clock violations. Instead, a moment of silence was held before tip-off, with the announcer at Denver’s Pepsi Center referring to Bryant’s nickname in saying, “Rest in peace, Mamba.”
Other NBA arenas also held moments of silence in honor of the five-time league champion, as well as at other events Sunday, including the NFL’s Pro Bowl and the Grammy awards.
“It’s devastating. This one hurt to the core,” Houston’s Eric Gordon said. “To hear news like that before the game, it was tough to stay focused. It’s tough to hear news like that before the game — a guy you admire, a guy you looked up to.”