MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Kobe Bryant played long enough, and at a high-enough level, that just about every team felt his basketball wrath.
His Los Angeles Lakers eliminated the Minnesota Timberwolves twice in the playoffs – and he made an impression on the Wolves in the process.
“I know these guys, we try to be as business-as-usual, you know, because as competitors, and as a competitor, the competitor that Kobe was, you know, he, that’s what he’d say, you know. You got to compete,” Wolves Head Coach Ryan Saunders said.
Monday, at their customary game day shoot-around, there was a predictable somber tone. They were preparing for a game while feeling the effects of tragedy to a basketball world so in tune with its superstars.
“It changed the whole world. You see how it affected people yesterday,” forward Robert Covington said. “You don’t know how it’s going to hit you until you’re actually in that moment, but, you know, just coming into today, like, seeing how everyone is, and like the mood’s kind of shifted.”
Across the street at Target Center, the Sacramento Kings did the same. The difference was their head coach was a teammate to Bryant, and much more.
“One of the harder times of my life, this last 24 hours,” Kings Head Coach Luke Walton said. “Kobe was my friend, a teammate, most importantly a father. I know that’s what was most important to him. The love he had for his family and his daughters.”
What he knows is what the league understands: The tribute to him will be to play hard the way the way he did every night.
“He took on every single challenge. He would want us out here playing. He’d want us competing at the highest level. And that’s, you know, is to me the best way we can honor him,” Walton said.
Karl-Anthony Towns understands. He spends much of his offseason in Los Angeles, and through it has learned much.
“All of us as athletes hope our legacy [matters], and that makes you feel, and he made us all feel a certain way when he was on the court,” Towns said. “And when his presence was in the room, or in the building, or in the state, you know, his presence, he made you feel. And I think that’s what his legacy is going to be.”
And Monday night at Target Center, they will play a basketball game. But they will also reflect on what the NBA lost that cannot be replaced.