76ers: Getting through a difficult day
The 76ers are just one example of Kobe Bryant’s effect on players in the NBA and all over the world during his 20-year career.
Prior to Monday’s practice, which was the team’s first since Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash Sunday in Southern California, Sixers coach Brett Brown had each player discuss his memories of Bryant.
The ages ranged from 21 (Zhaire Smith) to 34 (Al Horford), and spanned countries from Brazil (Raul Neto) to Turkey (Furkan Korkmaz) to Australia (Ben Simmons, Jonah Bolden) to Cameroon (Joel Embiid) to the Dominican Republic (Horford) and the United States (the rest of the roster).
The way in which Horford and Tobias Harris — the two Sixers who addressed the huge media contingent, along with Brown and general manager Elton Brand — spoke of Bryant told everything you need to know about how revered he was.
“I don’t want to make this about anything but to honor him,” Horford said. “At another time, I’ll share things about me and him, but right now it’s just remembering him and his greatness.”
Harris knew Bryant a little bit before, but spent more time with Kobe as one of 15 NBA players to work out with Bryant at his Mamba Sports Academy in Thousand Oaks, California, for two days last summer.
“I got a chance to communicate with him, pick his brain about different things, basketball-wise,” Harris said. “That, for me, was like a dream come true. It was like a once-in-a-lifetime (experience). Those dialogues (we) had, I’ll never forget.”
Brown, Horford and Harris thought the players being together was therapeutic for them one day after the tragic accident. They watched as numerous players, plus Clippers coach Doc Rivers, on teams that had to play Sunday struggled with their emotions.
“Basketball has always been like a peaceful place for me,” Harris said. “Even getting out there today and practicing was kind of like relaxing for me.”
“We’ve had time now to practice and get ready for (Tuesday’s game against the Warriors),” Horford said. “I’m sure (Tuesday) will be emotional, as well.”
Bryant won five NBA championships, collected two Finals MVP trophies and appeared in 18 All-Star games with the Lakers. He was one of the rare players to have a higher scoring average (25.6 points) in the playoffs than regular season (25).
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who announced Dallas will honor Bryant by not allowing anyone to wear No. 24, said he believes Bryant’s death can help bring “our country closer together.”
While that initially could sound a bit overstated, Horford thinks there might be something to it.
“I didn’t want to say much yesterday, but from what I’ve seen and felt, that’s what I saw, as well,” Horford said. “It’s unfortunate that (it takes this for us) to come together, but I do believe that our country has come together because of it.”
Brown went so far as to say leaning the news about Bryant’s death was one of those unforgettable instances.
“There are moments in all of our lives where you’re going to remember exactly where you were and exactly who told you and exactly the initial reaction that we all experienced,” Brown said. “I bet if we all answered the question how many of those have there been in our lives, it’s a tiny, tiny handful. That was one of ‘em, for me.”
During his years with the Spurs before becoming Sixers coach, Brown was responsible for scouting Kobe and the Lakers. It was no easy task.
Brown coached Australia against Bryant and the U.S. in the 2012 London Olympics, losing in the semifinals. As a member of Gregg Popovich’s staff, he coached Bryant in two all-star games.
But what Brown might treasure the most was Bryant chatting about Philadelphia basketball for 45 minutes during Kobe’s farewell tour in December 2015.
“Just sitting there talking to him was an easy, real conversation,” Brown said. “He cared. He was engaged. It wasn’t something he had to do.”
The NBA postponed Tuesday night’s Lakers-Clippers game out of respect for all of those in the Lakers’ organization grieving over Bryant’s loss.
There are plenty of folks hurting in other cities, too.
“(Sunday) was a blur to me,” Harris said. “When I heard the news, I just didn’t want to believe it. What transpired is kind of surreal to even think about.”
Tom Moore: email@example.com; @TomMoorePhilly