Blazers coach, fans react to death of Kobe Bryant ahead of Sunday’s game against Pacers
PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - News of basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s death is certainly being felt here in Portland Sunday as the Portland Trail Blazers got ready to play the Indiana Pacers at the Moda Center.
Ahead of Sunday night’s game, FOX 12 spoke to Blazers coach Terry Stotts and Pacers coach Nate McMillian about Bryant’s legacy, his reign over the NBA, and how they’re taking this tragic and unexpected loss.
“You just knew that every night, he was – you were in a battle every night, anytime you played against him, you knew you were going to get the best effort. That’s just, that’s the way he played the game,” Stotts said.
McMillan said, “Those guys grew up watching Kobe and for me, I had the opportunity to not only coach against him but coach him, being an assistant on the Olympic team and winning gold medals with him … I can only speak for me, and it’s been really a challenge these last few hours, just thinking about anything else.”
The Blazers put out this statement on Bryant’s death, saying:
“The entire Trail Blazers organization is shocked and devastated by the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Kobe’s indelible mark on the NBA and the game of basketball globally will live on forever. Our prayers and condolences are with the Bryant family and the other families affected, the Los Angeles Lakers organization and all those that knew and loved Kobe.”
The news of Bryant’s passing was especially difficult for former Trail Blazers player Jermaine O’Neal who attended the game.
“I had just talked to him two days ago,” O’Neal said. “We’ve been friends since we were 12 - having such a tight relationship over the years, it doesn’t even seem real. It’s hard to digest.”
O’Neal attended the game with other Blazers alumni to celebrate the team’s “90′s night.” It’s one of several special celebrations to mark the franchise’s 50th anniversary. O’Neal said he skipped attending an event with Bryant to be in Portland.
“He did things for so many people,” O’Neal said. “It’s unthinkable to think he would die that way.”
Rod Strickland remembered how tough it was to play against Bryant, but said he got to know the superstar better off court this past summer at an event put on by Nike.
“He tried to make everybody feel great about themselves,” Strickland said. “He was one of the greatest. One of the greatest competitors, great person – everybody looked up to him – older, younger.”
Basketball fans were also stunned and sad to hear the news of Bryant’s passing. Everyone FOX 12 spoke with ahead of Sunday’s game was in disbelief.
“The news really hit us hard because we consider Kobe one of those crossover players you know he was the last of a great generation in our opinion and the beginning of a new one,” Aaron Adams said.
It wasn’t that long ago that they remember watching Bryant play. Some even got to see him in person at the Moda Center.
“I grew up in the 80′s watching all the Laker-Blazer rivalries, and then obviously went into the Jordan-era and then into the Kobe-era as I got into my 30s, and I just loved Kobe, he was just like the epitome of one of the best basketball players in the world,” fan Shawn Bryant said.
Fans remember him for the great player he was — how confident yet humble he was — and he’s an athlete that both older and younger generations got to see.
FOX 12 spoke to parents and kids who both had something to say about Bryant, as well as one man who says even though he’s a Blazers fan, he put any basketball rivalry aside Sunday to wear a Kobe Bryant jersey to the game.
“Heartbroken, I mean, as a dad of a 12-year-old daughter, just sad, just for a sports world and everybody as parents,” said fan Greg Sjolander. “I just felt like the right thing to do was in honor of Kobe and what he did for the game.”
Fans were expecting a bit of a somber mood at Sunday’s game, and they say rightfully so as they remember Bryant. There was a moment of silence before tipoff.
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