They’re not ready to play. Frankly, none of us are probably ready to start this series of farewells, either. “The Los Angeles Lakers would like to thank all of you for the tremendous outpouring of support and condolences,” the team said in a statement released Monday afternoon. “This is a very difficult time for all of us. We continue to support the Bryant family and will share more information as it is available.”
Here’s the irony: Bryant probably would have hated the decision to postpone the game. LeBron James was in tears Sunday when he got off the Lakers’ plane that carried the team home from Philadelphia and a game where he passed Bryant for No. 3 on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. James said he and Bryant talked Sunday morning.
Hours later, Bryant was gone. “Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have ... I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!!,” James posted on Instagram late Monday, adding several crying and heartbreak emojis in his first public comments. “Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man!”
For the most part, the games have gone on and will continue to do so. All-Star reserves are scheduled to be revealed Thursday. The All-Star Game in Chicago is in a couple weeks, and Bryant will be announced — without question — as a finalist for enshrinement in this year’s class of inductees to the Basketball Hall of Fame. The playoffs are less than three months away. There’s an Olympics after that. The Hall induction comes in the fall, where someone will have the arduous task of giving a speech on Bryant’s behalf.
But nobody really wants to play right now. To ask the Lakers and Clippers to play would have simply been too much for those teams and their heartbroken city. "Coaches didn't really want to coach,” Hawks guard Kevin Huerter said when asked to describe what it was like to play Sunday, shortly after the world learned that Bryant was gone. “Players really didn't want to play ... it hit you that hard."
Huerter has a Bryant jersey at home. Until Sunday, it was just a nice souvenir. It’s now a prized possession. So are the memories that everyone has. Miami guard Dion Waiters — a Philadelphia guy, just like Bryant — doesn’t cry often. He couldn’t stop the tears Sunday.
“He made guys like myself chase a dream,” Waiters said. The game has been ancillary. Bryant has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Bam Adebayo had a triple-double for Miami on Monday night. He said it was for Bryant.
“Moments like this are about what really matters,” Adebayo said. Family matters. Friends matter. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle called his daughter twice Sunday. She called him back twice. Carlisle talked to his wife a bunch of times as well. Lots of his closest people got calls. Carlisle wanted to make sure plenty of people knew how he felt about them. As if we needed a reminder, Bryant’s death shows yet again how fragile life can be.
“Other than to say it’s unfathomable, I don’t really know what to say,” Carlisle said. “It speaks to the preciousness of time.” The NBA had Bryant for a long time. Just nowhere near long enough. THE WEEK AHEAD
The games are going on, and here are seven to take minds off the loss of Bryant this week: Tuesday, Boston at Miami: A big game in the race to decide who’ll coach the All-Star Game opposite Lakers coach Frank Vogel.
Wednesday, Utah at San Antonio: These teams play four times this season and somehow, this is the first of those meetings. Thursday, Toronto at Cleveland: There are some great stories in the NBA this season, and the Raptors might be atop that list.
Friday, Portland at L.A. Lakers: Barring another schedule change, this will be the first time the Lakers play since the tragedy. Saturday, Atlanta at Dallas: Trae Young and Luka Doncic, going head-to-head, not long before they become All-Star starters.
Sunday, Phoenix at Milwaukee: Everyone roots for no overtimes on Super Bowl Sunday, since a little football game happens later. Monday, Detroit at Memphis: The longer Ja Morant keeps the Grizzlies in the West playoff chase, the better his top-rookie chances.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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