NBA postpones Lakers-Clippers game 'out of respect' for Kobe Bryant's old team
LeBron James offers 1st public comments since tragedy: "I got US here"
The NBA has postponed the Los Angeles Lakers' next game against the Clippers on Tuesday night after the deaths of retired superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash.
The league announced the decision in a statement Monday, saying it "was made out of respect for the Lakers organization."
The Lakers learned about the crash while flying home from an East Coast trip Sunday. LeBron James and several other players appeared to be visibly affected by the news when they got off the plane.
James made his first public comments Monday night in an Instagram post including several photos of himself with Bryant. The four-time NBA MVP and 16-time All-Star said he was "heartbroken and devastated," and had been crying repeatedly while trying to write about Bryant.
James, who joined the Lakers last season, said the two spoke by phone Sunday morning after James passed Bryant for third place on the NBA's career scoring list Saturday night.
"Didn't think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we'd have," James wrote. "I promise you I'll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it's my responsibility to put this [team] on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me!"
The Lakers made grief counsellors available to employees Monday after the loss of Bryant, who spent his entire 20-year NBA career with the 16-time NBA champion franchise.
Lakers owner Jeanie Buss was quite close to Bryant, and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka was Bryant's agent during his playing career.
"The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences," the Lakers organization said in a statement after the postponement was announced. "This is a very difficult time for all of us."
Dwight Howard is the only current Lakers player who played with Bryant, but the players all knew him. Bryant had attended a handful of Lakers games in recent years with his daughter, Gianna, who also died in the crash in Calabasas, Calif.
WATCH | CBC's The National speaks with Angelenos about Kobe's impact:
The NBA says the game between the Los Angeles rivals will be rescheduled later.
The next game on the Lakers' schedule is Friday night at home against Portland.
L.A. remembers Kobe
Men, women and children of every ethnicity milled around, drawn to the heart of downtown Los Angeles where they had once celebrated five NBA championships won by Bryant and the Lakers.
Like many Angelenos, Bryant was a transplant. Born in Philadelphia, he spent some of his earliest years in Italy, where he learned the language while his father played pro basketball. He later returned to the Philadelphia area and starred at suburban Lower Merion High, becoming the top prep player in the country.
But he was most closely identified with LA, where the city's adopted son thrilled fans with his all-star moves for the Lakers over 20 seasons.
Bryant came to the NBA straight out of high school, a quiet kid of 17 whose parents had to co-sign his contract until he was able to sign his own when he turned 18. He was so young the Lakers training staff needed permission from his mother to treat him with medication.
At the time, few in Los Angeles thought anyone would assume Magic Johnson's mantle, he of the "Showtime" Lakers and incandescent smile.
In fact, Bryant was always more Michael Jordan than Johnson. Bryant's killer instinct, tireless work ethic and intolerance for giving anything less than the best in practice and games most closely hewed to the attitude of his idol Jordan.
Still, Bryant's audacity appealed to laid-back Angelenos. At times, it clashed with Shaquille O'Neal, who shared an uneasy spotlight with Bryant while winning three NBA championships from 2000 to 2002.
It wasn't until O'Neal was traded away in 2004 that Bryant took over as the Lakers' cornerstone, and Johnson endorsed him as a worthy successor. Bryant became his era's Jordan to his fellow players, while segueing into a beloved icon, embraced across his adopted city.
"He grew up there," Golden State Warriors general manager Bob Myers said. "He grew up and matured and changed and evolved. I'm sure they felt like they grew up with him."
Away from the court, Bryant briefly fell from grace in 2003 after being accused of sexual assault at a Colorado hotel. He lost sponsors and fans and his reputation was tarnished. The case was eventually dropped, and Bryant and his accuser settled her civil suit against him.
There were other personal problems. Bryant's wife, Vanessa, filed for divorce in 2011, but they reconciled a year later. There were disagreements with his parents, too. They initially opposed his marriage and didn't attend the wedding. Bryant's mother tried to auction memorabilia of his in 2013, and he successfully challenged her.
Those stumbles only served to humanize Bryant among his fans. If they could have relationship and family problems, so could he.
Some of Bryant's most storied moments occurred inside Staples, where he scored 81 points on Jan. 22, 2006, second-most in NBA history. He led the Lakers to two more NBA titles, parading the trophy past thousands of rapturous fans in the streets.
Bryant was in the news less than 24 hours before his sudden death. Current Laker LeBron James overtook him as the NBA's third all-time leading scorer during a road game in Philadelphia. Once famously competitive, Bryant had grown comfortable in the elder statesman's role, and his last tweet congratulated James on the achievement.
Long before he retired, Bryant and his wife started a foundation with the goal of helping families and children. Bryant said he was prompted to act after seeing homeless people in the streets outside the arena on his way home to Orange County from games.
"He wasn't just an athlete," fan Jason Ackerman said outside Staples. "He gave the city hope."
Ackerman said he was saddened about not being able to see what else Bryant would have done, whether it was in film, charity or owning a local sports team.
Bryant further blurred the lines between sports and entertainment after injuries hastened the end of his playing days in 2016. He immediately switched his laserlike focus to his love of storytelling in film, books and online.
"He was so intense about business," Philadelphia 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin said. "He would ask 50 different questions in a day about how could he win in business."
It didn't take long for Bryant to make an impact in Hollywood. He won an Oscar for best animated short two years ago as a producer of "Dear Basketball," based on a poem Bryant wrote before he retired from the court.
He launched Granity Studios, a multimedia company that creates content for young adults. He had begun a publishing career as well. Last year was the debut of his young adult book series that mixed fantasy and sports.
"Kobe's death is especially wrenching knowing what he was capable of and what he might have accomplished in his post-NBA life," said Arn Tellem, Bryant's former longtime agent. "He was already well on his way."
Steven and Diana Brugge joined the throng outside Staples in their matching Bryant jerseys.
"He was the soul of LA," Steven Brugge said. "He meant so much to this city, and not just because he won championships."
Brugge admired the way Bryant carried himself as a person and a professional: "That's the kind of guy you want representing your city."
When he wasn't working, Bryant would pop up at women's pro and college basketball games in Los Angeles, often with 13-year-old Gianna in tow. The second oldest of Bryant's four daughters took up her father's sport, and he proudly coached her AAU team. He talked up the women's game, too, giving it a boost.
At Bryant's Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, not far from the crash site, Renee Tab arrived with her young son, carrying purple and yellow flowers.
"We love Kobe Bryant," she said. "He is quintessentially LA. Our LA hero, our LA legend."
Perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio summed it up best.
"LA will never be the same," the actor tweeted.