The Toronto Raptors paid tribute to basketball icon Kobe Bryant on Sunday, during a game that started just hours after the announcement that Bryant, 41, had been killed in a helicopter crash. His 13-year-old daughter Gianna was one of eight other people killed, according to The New York Times.
The team was in Texas to play against the San Antonio Spurs. Some fans were surprised the game wasn’t cancelled, given the shock of the news and the clear distress it caused many players.
The game started on a sombre note, with both teams and the crowd participating in a moment of silence.
Before they started playing, former Raptor DeMar DeRozan, who now plays for the Spurs, was spotted hugging former teammates Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet. DeRozan grew up in Los Angeles and often spoke about how he idolized Bryant, whom the former Raptor said was his favourite player as a child.
“I watched every single thing that Kobe did, every game, every move,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2017. “He always gave me advice here and there and even the smallest things stuck with me.”
DeRozan was also known for wearing Kobe Bryant’s brand of sneakers, and even got a pair named after him in 2018.
At the beginning of the game, both the Raptors and the Spurs let the shot clock run out for a total of 24 seconds to honour Bryant. Twenty-four was his jersey number for much of his career with the Los Angeles Lakers.
The crowd, as well as the benched players and the coaches and officials, clearly recognized the tribute, and many fans broke out in chants of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!”
Later in the evening, the New Orleans Pelicans and the Boston Celtics did the same thing. During another game, the Memphis Grizzlies also took a 24-second penalty, followed by an eight-second penalty by the Phoenix Suns. Eight was Bryant’s jersey number before he moved on to 24.
News is still emerging about the helicopter crash, which occurred in the L.A. neighbourhood of Calabasas Sunday.
Bryant won two Olympic gold medals for basketball. He’s an 18-time NBA All-Star, and was named league MVP in 2008. He was accused of rape in 2003, by a 19-year-old hotel employee. The case was later settled out of court.
Many NBA players aired their distress at Bryant’s death, including former Raptors player Vince Carter and retired Canadian player Steve Nash. Toronto basketball ambassador Drake chimed in too.