The stunning death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna will cast a huge pall over the Staples Center when the Los Angeles Lakers host the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.
The Lakers will play for the first time since Bryant and his daughter were killed Sunday along with seven others in a helicopter crash north of Los Angeles in Calabasas, Calif. Bryant, 41, spent all 20 of his NBA seasons with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA championships during his stellar career before retiring in 2016.
As of Monday afternoon, the Lakers organization hadn't issued a statement about Bryant's death. There was no reference to it on the club's website, either. Although Lakers' legends Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West issued touching tributes Sunday, the grieving players have said little with the exception of Anthony Davis.
"Man this is a tough one for me!" Davis wrote Monday on Instagram. "You were the first guy to put me under your wing and show me the ins and outs of the league. Had so many great convos about so many things and I will cherish those moments forever. Love you forever, Bean!"
Less than 24 hours before the devastating news, Davis and the Lakers completed a five-game road trip after a 108-91 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday. In an eerie prelude, LeBron James surpassed Bryant's mark of 33,643 points to become the NBA's third-leading career scorer in the city where the late Laker grew up. James wrote "Mamba 4 Life" on his game sneakers. Bryant's last Twitter post saluted James.
James, who finished with 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds, praised Bryant after the defeat.
"It's surreal. It doesn't make no sense, but the universe just puts things in your life," said James, according to the Orange County Register. "I'm happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time great basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man has two jersey hanging up in Staples Center. It's just crazy."
The Clippers managed a 112-97 win over the host Orlando Magic on Sunday despite the emotional day. Kawhi Leonard had 31 points, a season-best 14 rebounds and seven assists for the Clippers, the eighth consecutive game he has scored at least 30 points. Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell added 19 points apiece.
Like all NBA teams, Bryant's death hit the Clippers hard. Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue was a teammate of Bryant's from 1998-2001 and a member of two Lakers title teams, while Clippers guard Lou Williams played with Bryant in his final season.
"We're not prepared for this, none of us were," Clippers coach Doc Rivers told reporters after beating the Magic. "It's just really tough. For Lue ... Kawhi, it was just a lot of relationships that Kobe had with guys in our locker room. I was worried. I didn't know if our guys could get through it, to be honest.
"Sometimes the stage is the best place to get away from reality," he added.
The Clippers won the two previous meetings with the Lakers, rallying for a 111-106 Christmas Day victory behind 35 points and 12 rebounds from Leonard in their last contest.
--Field Level Media