The late Kobe Byrant’s two numbers, No. 8 and No. 24, were illuminated on the walls of the Lakers practice court in El Segundo on Wednesday. It was the first time the team has held media availability since the tragic passing of former Lakers great Kobe Bryant.
Head coach Frank Vogel was adamant that the shocking occurrence has further united the team.
“It’s just strength in what we’ve felt all year about our current group,” Vogel told the L.A. Sentinel. “We’ve become a family in a short period of time and it’s something you talk about in the NBA with your teams, but this group, in particular, has really grown to love each other very rapidly…This has just brought us closer together.”
I asked Frank Vogel what he’s learned about the team through this tragedy 🎥 pic.twitter.com/C8KuJfTL7qADVERTISEMENT
— Lauren A. Jones (@LoJoMedia) January 29, 2020
The Lakers were en route back from Philadelphia to Los Angeles after suffering a loss to the 76ers when news broke of the helicopter crash that took Bryant’s life. Vogel revealed that he alerted the team on the plane.
“It was just a daunting of having to, grabbing each guy one-on-one and letting them know.”
The news not only shocked the players but members of the Lakers staff that worked with Bryant during his 20-year career with the organization including general manager Rob Pelinka, who was Bryant’s longtime agent.
“I’m around the people that were closest to Kobe throughout his time here,” Vogel commented. “It’s been deeply saddening.”
Upon the team’s return to L.A., an unorthodox practice was held on Tuesday intended for team bonding in the wake of the travesty. Vogel shared that the team worked on shooting, returning to normal basketball activities but above all, it was just a time “to be around each other” as he described it.
Following Tuesday’s practice, the Lakers held a team lunch that allowed players, coaches, and staff to exchange their favorite Kobe stories.
“I think it’s therapeutic, any time you can take your mind off something like this,” Vogel stated.
Given the impact that Bryant’s death has had on the entire world and especially the Lakers organization, it was important that the team have time to grieve and come together on their terms.
“The decision process is you guys can speak when you’re ready and not before,” said Vogel.
With that in mind, Vogel expressed that the team undoubtedly will continue to uphold the legacy of Bryant as the season progresses.
“We want to represent what Kobe was about more than anything,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud and that’s not going to be any different here.”
“He was the most feared man in the league for an entire generation and the influence is profound league-wide, basketball community-wide, worldwide, Lakers family-wide,” he added. “His influence will be felt forever.”
Just a few hours after the Lakers practice concluded Bryant’s wife, Vanessa, took to social media to share her appreciation for the outpouring of support on Instagram.
“My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time,” she wrote. “Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them…There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved.”
View this post on Instagram
My girls and I want to thank the millions of people who’ve shown support and love during this horrific time. Thank you for all the prayers. We definitely need them. We are completely devastated by the sudden loss of my adoring husband, Kobe — the amazing father of our children; and my beautiful, sweet Gianna — a loving, thoughtful, and wonderful daughter, and amazing sister to Natalia, Bianka, and Capri. We are also devastated for the families who lost their loved ones on Sunday, and we share in their grief intimately. There aren’t enough words to describe our pain right now. I take comfort in knowing that Kobe and Gigi both knew that they were so deeply loved. We were so incredibly blessed to have them in our lives. I wish they were here with us forever. They were our beautiful blessings taken from us too soon. I’m not sure what our lives hold beyond today, and it’s impossible to imagine life without them. But we wake up each day, trying to keep pushing because Kobe, and our baby girl, Gigi, are shining on us to light the way. Our love for them is endless — and that’s to say, immeasurable. I just wish I could hug them, kiss them and bless them. Have them here with us, forever. Thank you for sharing your joy, your grief and your support with us. We ask that you grant us the respect and privacy we will need to navigate this new reality. To honor our Team Mamba family, the Mamba Sports Foundation has set up the MambaOnThree Fund to help support the other families affected by this tragedy. To donate, please go to MambaOnThree.org. To further Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports, please visit MambaSportsFoundation.org. Thank you so much for lifting us up in your prayers, and for loving Kobe, Gigi, Natalia, Bianka, Capri and me. #Mamba #Mambacita #GirlsDad #DaddysGirls #Family ❤️
The Lakers also posted on social media for the first time since the Bryants’ untimely death.
“We are devastated and have been forever changed by the sudden loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna,” the Lakers wrote on Instagram. “Words cannot express what Kobe means to the Los Angeles Lakers, our fans, and our city. More than a basketball player, he was a beloved father, husband, and teammate. Their love and light will remain in our hearts forever.”
View this post on Instagram
We are devastated and have been forever changed by the sudden loss of Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna. We send our love to Vanessa, the Bryant family, and to the families of the other passengers. Words cannot express what Kobe means to the Los Angeles Lakers, our fans, and our city. More than a basketball player, he was a beloved father, husband, and teammate. Their love and light will remain in our hearts forever. The Mamba Sports Foundation has set up the MambaOnThree Fund to support the families affected by this tragedy. To help, please visit MambaOnThree.org. For those who are inspired to continue Kobe and Gianna’s legacy in youth sports, please visit MambaSportsFoundation.org.
After the NBA announced it would postpone the Lakers’ third matchup against the Clippers that was scheduled for Tuesday, the team will forge ahead to face the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday at STAPLES Center.