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An overwhelming feeling of sadness spread across the NBA Sunday following the tragic death of Los Angeles Lakers icon Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, 41, died Sunday morning in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others. The news spread rapidly as eight games were set to tip off across the league on Sunday.
Before his team’s game against the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers was overcome with emotion when reflecting on what made Bryant so special on the basketball court.
“The news is just devastating to everybody who knew him. He means a lot to me. He was such a great opponent. It’s what you want in sports. He had that DNA that very few athletes can ever have,” Rivers said. “Looking at my young players and seeing how emotional they are, and they didn’t even know him. It just tells you how far his reach was.”
Popovich: Kobe a ‘competitor that goes unmatched’
Not long after the news was beginning to spread, the Spurs and Raptors took the court in San Antonio. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich consoled DeMar DeRozan, a Los Angeles native, before tip-off.
When the game began, the Raptors took a 24-second shot clock violation to honor Bryant, who wore No. 24 during the latter part of his playing career.
After the game, Popovich and DeRozan both spoke candidly about Bryant.
“All of us know what a great player he was, but he went beyond great playing. He was a competitor that goes unmatched and it’s what made him, as a player, so attractive to everyone,” Popovich said.
“That focus, that competitiveness, that will to win. More importantly, 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.”
DeRozan said Bryant meant “everything” to him.
“Everything I learned came from Kobe,” DeRozan said. “Take Kobe away and I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have the love. I wouldn’t have the passion. I wouldn’t have the drive. Everything came from him.”
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