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Overcome with grief, Kyrie Irving left Garden following news of Kobe Bryant’s death

Atlanta Hawks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyrie Irving, who was personally close to Kobe Bryant, left Madison Square Garden after hearing word of Bryant’s death Sunday afternoon. He did not return and did not play vs. the Knicks.

Irving arrived at the Garden earlier than most players, ready to run out on the MSG floor and go through his usual pregame routine. Before he could even do that, he was told that Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, known as Gigi, had died in a helicopter accident. The crash took place at 9:50 a.m. Sunday, Pacific Time, near Calabasas, California. Initially, reports had five dead, including Bryant and his daughter but later, police said the flight manifest listed nine people on board.

After Irving left the building, an emotional Kenny Atkinson spoke of the loss and referred to Irving’s relationship with Bryant.

“On behalf of the Nets organization, we’d like to express our sincerest condolences to the Bryant family and everybody affected by the tragedy. As an organization we’re devastated, our players are devastated.” said the Nets coach. then adding in reference to Irving, “We have a player that was very close to Kobe. Our thoughts and prayers are with him also. Just a tough time for the NBA and all of us.”

Post-game, Atkinson revealed he was with Irving when word came.

“I was with him. I’ll keep [the scene] private, but they were very close,” Atkinson said of Irving. “Tough, tough, tough, tough times.”

The two men were close both professionally and personally. Most recently, they and Spencer Dinwiddie saw each other and spoke after the Nets-Hawks game at Barclays Center on December 21. Bryant had brought Gigi to the game where they sat courtside.

YES Network cameras caught father and daughter discussing the game, a video that has now gone viral in light of the tragedy.

Even though they were never teammates, their history and friendship go back to when Irving first entered the league.

Frank Isola on YES noted that Bryant was the first person Irving contacted after the Cavs won the NBA title in 2016, telling the Laker icon that the lessons he had provided worked.

As we noted on Twitter...

Other Nets players, coaches and executives offered their condolences and spoke of the their shock. Here’s a sampling.