OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul missed his first game of the season Monday as he mourned the death of his friend Kobe Bryant. The team officially cited personal reasons for his absence.
Following the Thunder's game Saturday against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Paul returned home to Los Angeles for his daughter's dance recital and was there when news broke Sunday of Bryant's death.
"I've had several conversations with him," Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. "I'd like to keep our conversations private. That's kind of between Chris and I, but he's doing fine. It's a personal day for him."
Paul and Bryant grew close while playing on two Olympic teams together, as well as connecting as fathers playing in the NBA. At Bryant's final All-Star Game in 2016, Paul, along with friends Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade, hosted a celebratory dinner for Bryant. They presented Bryant with retirement gifts such as a subscription to Netflix, underwear and reading glasses, with Paul giving him a cane.
Bryant and Paul nearly became teammates in 2011, when the then-New Orleans Hornets agreed to a three-team trade with the Lakers and Rockets that would've sent Paul to Los Angeles. The trade was vetoed by Commissioner David Stern for "basketball reasons," as the league owned the Hornets at the time during an ownership transition.
Paul's teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander arrived at the arena Monday wearing a yellow Bryant No. 8 jersey.
Paul, 34, has been an essential part of the Thunder's surprising season, averaging 17.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 6.4 assists in 47 games. He leads the league in clutch-time scoring, boosting the Thunder as one of the most dangerous fourth-quarter teams in the league. OKC is 28-19, seventh in the West but only a game out of fifth, behind Dallas and Houston.