NEW YORK (AP) — Kobe Bryant authored some of his most memorable moments at Madison Square Garden and made himself a centerpiece of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.
Bryant was remembered for that and so much more Sunday after the five-time NBA champion, his teenage daughter and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash.
Tributes poured in from around the basketball, entertainment and political worlds. Players and teams who competed with and against Bryant struggled their way through the games that were scheduled, unable to summon his intense competitive spirit.
“We laughed and joked about the Mamba mentality. We’re all going to need it right now,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said through tears before his team played in Orlando.
Madison Square Garden was lit up in the Lakers’ gold and purple colors for the game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. Nets star Kyrie Irving didn’t play, leaving the arena after hearing of Bryant’s death.
The 18-time All-Star made his first All-Star appearance at MSG in 1998, a passing of the torch game in which Michael Jordan played for the final time as a member of the Chicago Bulls. Bryant later set the scoring record at the current arena when he scored 61 points in 2009, a mark that was later bettered by Carmelo Anthony.
Bryant played twice against Rivers and the Celtics for the championship, with Boston winning in 2008 and the Lakers taking the 2010 title, when Bryant captured his second consecutive NBA Finals MVP award.
“We always liked to reminisce. We would always laugh at our versions of our losses,” Rivers said. “You know, when we beat them in 2008, he had his version. And when they beat us in 2010, I had my version, and then we would laugh at how different we looked at the games.”
Pau Gasol, a former teammate of Bryant’s during those series, tweeted, “Beyond devastated… my big brother… I can’t, I just can’t believe it.”
The Lakers and Celtics already had the NBA’s most famous rivalry, but it had been dormant since the heydays of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird before Bryant helped lead its resumption.
Johnson, just days after giving an emotional speech during a memorial service for former NBA Commissioner David Stern, was devastated again after Bryant, 41, and 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among those killed in Southern California.
“As I try to write this post, my mind is racing,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “I’m in disbelief and have been crying all morning over this devastating news that Kobe and his young daughter, Gigi have passed away in a helicopter crash. Cookie and I are heartbroken.”
Bryant also helped the U.S. win Olympic titles in 2008 and 2012, after the Americans had been shut out of gold medals in major international basketball competitions since 2000.
“He was in constant pursuit of doing something special and there will never be a greater warrior in our sport,” said Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Bryant on those teams after trying to recruit him to Duke.
Players around the NBA honored Bryant by holding the ball for 24 seconds — one of his jersey numbers — for a 24-second shot clock violation at the start of games. Hawks All-Star guard Trae Young, who usually wears No. 11, wore Bryant’s other number Sunday night, No. 8, before Atlanta’s game against the Wizards. He changed back to his own number for the game.
In another tribute to the No. 24, soccer star Neymar held up two fingers on one hand and four on the other during a celebration after a goal.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joe Embiid said that he started playing basketball after watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals.
“I had never watched ball before that and that finals was the turning point of my life,” Embiid wrote on Twitter. “I WANTED TO BE LIKE KOBE. I’m so FREAKING SAD right now!!!!”
Tiger Woods was told of Kobe Bryant’s passing by his caddie Joey LaCava coming off the 18th green at Torrey Pines on Sunday at the Farmer’s Insurance Open.
“Joey just told me coming off 18th green,” Woods told CBS. “I didn’t understand why the people in the gallery were saying, ‘Do it for Mamba.’ But now I understand. It’s a shocker to everyone. Unbelievably sad and one of the more tragic days.”
And not only for fellow athletes. Bryant had been busy in the arts after retirement as a player and quickly been successful.
“Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act,” former President Barack Obama tweeted. “To lose Gianna is even more heartbreaking to us as parents. Michelle and I send love and prayers to Vanessa and the entire Bryant family on an unthinkable day.”
Former Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tweeted that “Most people will remember Kobe as the magnificent athlete who inspired a whole generation of basketball players. But I will always remember him as a man who was much more than an athlete.”
Syracuse University men’s basketball coach Jim Boeheim previously worked with Bryant with Team USA.
“He was not only one of the greatest basketball players ever, he was also the hardest working player I’ve ever been around,” Boeheim tweeted. “I was so fortunate to have known him and coached him with Team USA. Our thoughts and our prayers are with his wife, Vanessa, and the Bryant family.”
Bryant’s death reverberated beyond sports. In 2018, he won an Academy Award in the animated short film category.
Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom issued a statement regarding about Bryant that read:
“We mourn the tragic and untimely death of a California icon and basketball legend, Kobe Bryant. In his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers, he made history with raw talent and unparalleled dedication that raised the bar and paved the way for a newer generation of players.”
AP Sports Writer Steve Reed in Charlotte, North Carolina; AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson in San Diego; AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina; Associated Press writers Raul Dominquez in San Antonio, Texas and Dick Scanlon in Orlando, Florida, contributed to this report.
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