Sad and stunned, NBA players find it tough to get going

A tribute is shown on the video board during a moment of silence acknowledging Kobe Bryant before the game between the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors at the AT&T Center.
A tribute is shown on the video board during a moment of silence acknowledging Kobe Bryant before the game between the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors at the AT&T Center.PHOTO: REUTERS/ USA TODAY SPORTS

LOS ANGELES • The National Basketball Association (NBA) grappled with the sudden death of league great Kobe Bryant on Sunday with players saying they felt sick to their stomachs taking to the court without having ample time to absorb the shocking 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 nine who perished.

In San Antonio, where the Spurs hosted champions Toronto Raptors, both teams took 24-second shot-clock violations on their first possessions of the game in honour of Bryant - who wore No. 24 in the later years of his career.

And in a move that other teams are also expected to adopt, the Dallas Mavericks announced that they were retiring the No. 24 jersey.

Several NBA stars said they were reluctant to step on the court.

"I don't even know how we are supposed to play this game tonight," said Portland's Damian Lillard said before scoring 50 points in a 139-129 win over Indiana.

"It makes you sick to your stomach. It is disturbing. It is bigger than just our heroes and the people we look up to dying."

There were eight games on Sunday and the prevailing mood in every arena was sadness and shock.

"I couldn't focus at first," said New Orleans Pelicans' rookie Zion Williamson, who scored 21 points in the 123-108 win over Boston. "It was tough getting out there."

 
 
 
 

Atlanta Hawks rising star Trae Young said he was just getting to know Bryant and his basketball-playing daughter.

"This is a crazy day to play basketball," he said before the 152-133 win over Washington. "I talked to him couple of times. He's only been to three games this year and two of them were ours. His daughter was a big fan of mine."

Six-time NBA champion Michael Jordan said former LA Lakers star Bryant would be remembered as one of the game's greatest.

"Words can't describe the pain I'm feeling," he said. "I loved Kobe - he was like a little brother to me."

That sentiment was echoed by Shaquille O'Neal, who won three NBA titles with the Lakers and also famously feuded with Bryant.

The 47-year-old tweeted: "There's no words to express the pain I'm going through with this tragedy of loosing my niece Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed. My condolences goes out to the Bryant family and the families of the other passengers on board. I'M SICK RIGHT NOW."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 28, 2020, with the headline 'Sad and stunned, NBA players find it tough to get going'. Print Edition | Subscribe