When Kyrie Irving won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016, he went back to the locker room and called Kobe Bryant. He told him, “It worked, what you told me to do worked.”
Kobe was his mentor, his friend. He even said in a recent interview that, “Kyrie is who I’m closest to.”
Irving left Madison Square Garden after hearing word of Bryant’s death Sunday afternoon, a source told NetsDaily. He did not return and would not play vs. the Knicks. A second person replied on Twitter and explained how Kyrie had spent time with Kobe recently — and that the two shared limo drivers when in New York.
While others arrived at the Garden after the tragedy, Irving was on hand earlier, 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.
“I was with him. I’ll keep [the scene] private, but they were very close,” Kenny Atkinson said of Irving. “Tough, tough, tough, tough times.”
Irving’s teammates to a man said they understood what Irving was going through.
“Ky, some of these guys have a different relationship with him where they’re very close friends,” Joe Harris said.
“Obviously our leader, Ky, wasn’t able to play. Our thoughts go out to him as well as to the families, to the Bryant family and the other families on the helicopter, parents, the pilot,” Garrett Temple added.
Nothing else mattered.
If Kyrie showed us one thing today, it’s that these games shouldn’t have been played. These are humans who need time to mourn. Yet, the teams were told they still had to play the game. Kyrie decided he couldn’t do it. Can’t blame him. We all mourn in our own way.
From the Nets side of things, they looked disheartened from start to finish. You could see it in Spencer Dinwiddie’s eyes and body language throughout the night, an L.A. kid who grew up watching and idolizing Kobe Bryant. A friend of Dinwiddie’s wrote on Twitter about how he would tell all his friends in school how he’d be the next Kobe.
The Knicks (13-34) defeated the Nets (19-26), 110-97, Sunday evening at Madison Square Garden. The two teams will split the season series at two apiece; Irving played in one of those games, a win. The lights inside and outside MSG shone purple and gold, in memory of Kobe. Few boo’d the Nets, despite the rivalry. Few seemed to even care about the game.
The Nets were riding a bit of a high from Saturday night when they snapped their five-game losing streak, but the day’s events killed any sort of momentum they were trying to build off of. Kenny Atkinson would barely hold it together when he spoke on behalf of the team prior to the game. Around the league, other coaches and players reacted the same way.
So, for what it’s worth, here’s the game recap.
The Knicks closed out the first quarter on a 9-2 run and led by two. They really never looked back from there on out, extending it to a 19-6 run and eight-point lead. The Nets cut it to three at half, but they went down by as many as 10 in the third quarter.
New York continued to dominate in the second half with the Nets showing absolutely zero signs of making a comeback. The deficit fell to as many as 15 with less than six minutes left.
And that was it.
Dinwiddie led the team with 23 points and five assists in 32 minutes, while Rodions Kurucs came off the bench and scored 12 points in 20 minutes — only the fourth time this year in which he’s played 20+ minutes. Caris LeVert struggled, shooting just 2-of-12 from the field.
The Knicks were led by Julius Randle, former teammate of Kobe’s. He scored 22 points while Marcus Morris Sr. chipped in 21. The Knicks shot 53 percent from the field and out-rebounded the Nets by 14 — doubling them in offensive rebounds, 14-7.
The game had to be played, but it wasn’t really on the minds of a lot of people. The thoughts, the prayers, the condolences are with Vanessa Bryant and her family, as well as people like Kyrie Irving, who was a very close friend of Bryant’s.
Nothing else mattered.
Rest in Peace Kobe and Gianna Bryant, and to all those involved.
MOMENT OF SILENCE
Madison Square Garden holds a 24-second moment of silence, crowd erupts into “KOBE” chants. pic.twitter.com/CqKFEU5zMC— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 26, 2020
24 SECOND VIOLATIONS
Both the Nets and Knicks take 24-second violations in honor of Kobe Bryant. pic.twitter.com/ALFxcsA9HE— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 26, 2020
NETS TALK KOBE POST-GAME
The Nets didn’t speak to the media before the game. Only Kenny Atkinson spoke on behalf of the organization ... and he had a hard time, as many of us did. Post-game, reporters were allowed in the locker room.
Kobe Bryant's words to @SDinwiddie_25 will last forever. pic.twitter.com/evdMmU9FhY— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 27, 2020
Kenny Atkinson shares a memorable Kobe Bryant moment. pic.twitter.com/1J0NO9pPTM— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 27, 2020
YES also tweeted out a reprise of their coverage of Kobe’s visit to Barclays Center a month ago when the Nets played the Hawks and he and his daughter, GiGi, sat courtside.
A look back at Kobe Bryant’s December visit to Brooklyn. pic.twitter.com/y2Hdm8wmL6— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 27, 2020
And Richard Jefferson provided his perspective as did Ian Eagle and Sarah Kustok
Kobe Bryant was a driving factor for his opponents striving to be great, says @Rjeff24. pic.twitter.com/bWOdTjO0Lh— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 27, 2020
Kobe Bryant's legacy will go on forever, says @sarahkustok & Ian Eagle. pic.twitter.com/Y7YO5tGUMD— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 27, 2020
For a different perspective, head on over to Posting and Toasting, our Knicks sister site on SB Nation.
Next up: Pistons on Wednesday at Barclays, a 7:30 p.m. start.
- Box Score: New York Knicks 110, Brooklyn Nets 97 - NBA.com
- Recap: New York Knicks 110, Brooklyn Nets 97 (Video) - NBA.com
- BKN@NYK: Nets Postgame Plus (Video) - Bob Lorenz & Frank Isola
- Kustok and Eagle on Nets’ loss (Video) - Sarah Kustok & Ian Eagle - YES Network
- Atkinson on the loss of Kobe (Video) - YES Network
- Dinwiddie on losing his idol, Kobe Bryant (Video) - YES Network
- Temple on Bryant’s legacy (Video) - YES Network
- Harris reflects on Bryant (Video) - YES Network
- Knicks beat Nets as Irving misses game after Kobe’s death - Brian Mahoney - AP
- Nets coach Kenny Atkinson gets emotional over Kobe Bryant’s death - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Kyrie Irving devastated over loss of idol Kobe Bryant - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Knicks top Nets as they mourn Kobe Bryant: ‘Superman is not supposed to die’ - Marc Berman - New York Post
- Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina didn’t always appreciate Kobe Bryant’s greatness - Marc Berman - New York Post
- Heavy sadness fills Kobe Bryant’s ‘second home’ - George Willis - New York Post
- Spencer Dinwiddie reflects on the death of Kobe Bryant, his childhood hero - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Kobe Bryant and Kyrie Irving’s relationship went deeper than basketball - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News
- Madison Square Garden pays tribute to Kobe Bryant before Knicks-Nets game - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Knicks players stunned by death of Kobe Bryant - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News
- Knicks top Nets as Kobe Bryant’s death casts somber mood over Madison Square Garden - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Knicks-Nets game becomes a tribute to Kobe Bryant - Steve Popper - Newsday
- Nets’ Irving excused from game after death of mentor Kobe Bryant - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Knicks’ win over Nets an afterthought at somber MSG - Greg Logan - Newsday
- ‘Superman isn’t supposed to die:’ NBA players reflect on the death of Kobe Bryant - Mike Mazzeo - Yahoo! Sports
- ‘He was everything to a lot of kids, and I was one of them’: Spencer Dinwiddie, Nets reflect on Kobe Bryant’s influence - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic New York