Carmelo Anthony will be watching from the sidelines on Friday night when the Portland Trail Blazers take on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center due “personal reasons,” coach Terry Stotts said.
The game will mark the first for the Lakers since the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant — who, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, was among nine people killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning just outside of Los Angeles.
The contest is sure to be an emotional one for everyone involved. Anthony, who was one of Bryant’s better friends in the league, simply isn’t ready to be a part of it.
“I respect it,” Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard said, via USA Today. “I know him and Kobe had a great relationship.
“It’s something he was not ready to face and deal with. We all respect his decision.”
Bryant and Anthony never played on the same team in the league, but Anthony asked Bryant for advice on several notable occasions — including when he asked the Denver Nuggets to trade him and how to deal with former Knicks president Phil Jackson, who was Bryant’s longtime coach in Los Angeles. The two linked up on Team USA during the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, too, winning a gold medal each time.
“Our friendship and relationship was deeper than basketball,” Anthony said on Sunday while fighting back tears. “It was family. It was friendship. Basketball was the last piece of connective tissue between us two.”
Anthony has averaged 15.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in 33 games in Portland this season. He has played since Bryant’s death, dropping six points and 13 rebounds in their win against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday and recording 14 points and eight rebounds in their win against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday.
“It’s a tough situation for everybody,” Lillard said, via USA Today. “The people closest to him and his family and things like that is obviously going to be harder for them. But for me it’s going to be emotional because I grew up idolizing Kobe. I grew up a huge fan of Kobe and cheering for Kobe and eventually becoming a peer of his and playing against him and getting cool with him and being in contact with him.
“All of those things makes for a very sad and emotional night. It’ll be a tough game to play. But I’m choosing to honor him and coming out and competing and showing my respect in that way.”
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