The Nets announced Irving’s absence shortly before 5 p.m. ET, a little over an hour before the game’s 6 p.m. tip. The team, in the announcement, cited “personal reasons.”
Irving and Bryant shared a tight friendship. “I have an unbelievable mentorship, friendship with him,” Irving said during an appearance on ESPN in 2017.
Bryant, in 2019, spoke about Irving during an appearance on SiriusXM. “You had MJ; who would be that mentee for you?” the host asked. “Kyrie, certainly,” was the first name that came to Kobe’s mind.
“I remember sitting on the couch at home, after Cleveland came back from that 3-1 deficit and beat Golden State,” Bryant said. “We’re watching the game, me and Gianna are just there, hanging out. And my phone rings. And it’s a FaceTime call. ... It’s Kyrie. I pick it up. And Kyrie’s in the locker room celebrating on FaceTime. Like, ‘Dude! It worked! Your advice worked!’ ”
Irving, Bryant remembered, said hi to Gianna as well on the phone that night. “I’d say Kyrie’s probably the one I’m closest to,” Bryant said. It’s no wonder, then, that Irving was greatly affected by the death of Bryant and his daughter.
“We have a player who was very close to Kobe,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson confirmed prior to Sunday’s game. “Our thoughts and prayers are with him also.”
Atkinson fought back tears as he addressed the assembled media. “As an organization, we’re devastated. Our players are devastated,” he said. He did not take any questions.
Kenny Atkinson’s comments on Kobe Bryant’s passing. Atkinson pauses several times to collect himself. pic.twitter.com/1olKkI30Ru— Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) January 26, 2020
Bryant and his daughter were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California. The news rocked the NBA. But all eight of Sunday’s games went ahead as planned.
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