Doc: Best Clippers tribute to Kobe is to ‘win it’
10:47 PM ET
  • Ohm YoungmisukESPN Staff Writer

      Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.

      Follow him on Twitter »  Ohm’s chat archive »

LOS ANGELES — The LA Clippers honored Kobe Bryant in a variety of ways Thursday night in the first basketball game played at Staples Center since the former Lakers great died, but coach Doc Rivers and the team agreed there is one ultimate way to pay tribute to him.

“The best way if you want to honor Kobe, and we talked about this even on Sunday, is to go win,” Rivers said before the Clippers played the Sacramento Kings. “Not just win tonight, but win it.

“So that’s our journey. It was already our journey, and then this happens, and I think our guys understand if you really want to salute him, he made a lot of sacrifices to be a winner, Kobe did. … And so for us to win, we’re going to have to do the same thing, otherwise we will not win. So I think that’s our journey now as well.”

The Clippers played Sunday and won in Orlando, Florida, just hours after Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. The team was supposed to play the Lakers on Tuesday, but the NBA postponed the game until further notice to allow for more time to grieve.

The Clippers, too, were affected by Bryant’s death. Rivers was close to Bryant and battled with him in two NBA Finals as coach of the Boston Celtics. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George grew up in Southern California and were close to Bryant. Both attended Bryant’s camp at his basketball facility before the season started, and Leonard shared the same helicopter pilot — Ara Zobayan, who died in the accident.

Several Clippers players looked up to Bryant, and Lou Williams was a teammate of Bryant’s with the Lakers.

In their first game back in the building Bryant called home for almost two decades, the Clippers wore warm-up shirts with a “KB24” logo on the front and his Nos. 8 and 24 on the back during pregame. The coaching staff wore Kobe Nike shoes and purple ties.

The marquee in the Staples Center hallway that leads to the locker rooms, which usually announces the teams that are playing that night, instead read, “REST IN PEACE KOBE AND GIGI” with purple and gold hearts.

The Clippers played a video tribute to Bryant, Gianna and all those who were lost in the helicopter crash, narrated by George, who said Bryant was the reason he first picked up a basketball.

And a spotlight shined on Bryant’s retired No. 8 and No. 24 for the entire game, a 124-103 Clippers loss. Typically, the Clippers have the retired Lakers jerseys up high in the arena covered during their games.

“It’s been tough all week, though Sunday was brutal, it really was,” Rivers said. “It was a hard day for everybody, though, really for everyone, and then just everywhere you go you’re reminded, people come up and want to talk about it. I’ve been sent more pictures over the last three days, you know really personal pictures with Kobe and I at dinner, Kobe and I at different stuff, so it’s been a tough week for me, tough week for the whole city.

“You know what I told my players is that’s OK,” he continued. “I don’t know how each person should handle this emotionally, like I’m not versed on what to do there. I do know each one should handle it in his own way, and I told our guys to feel free in whatever way. I think we’re reflecting, we’re trying to a lot more now, we’re trying to celebrate his life now as well after we’ve gotten over the shock, which I don’t know if we have yet, so that’s where I’m at.”

Kings coach Luke Walton played with the Lakers from 2003 to ’11, won two championships with Bryant and was coach of the franchise from 2016 to ’19. He remained close with Bryant and said he walked around LA Live outside Staples Center when the team arrived at its hotel at 2 a.m. PT.

Walton saw that even in the middle of the night, people came to mourn Bryant.

“It was … it was emotional,” Walton said. “It wasn’t a lot, [but] there was people at 2 in the morning. … They were chanting. There was a group of people chanting ‘Ko-be’ … 2 in the morning. And you’re looking around and, again, seeing how many people he touched, and the flowers and the candles and the messages and the handwritten notes, it was an emotional setting.”

Bryant touched so many in the NBA, including several on the Clippers. Assistant Tyronn Lue played for the Lakers from 1998 to ’01 and remained close to him. Rivers said he turned to Lue at one point Sunday during the game against Orlando and saw Lue in tears.

“He’s struggling,” Rivers said. “In the middle of the game, I turn to Ty to ask a question, and he couldn’t, he was crying and literally couldn’t function because he had a very personal relationship with him as a player, as a teammate and then as a friend after that. So he’s doing the best, they all are.

“You know Kawhi and him had a very good relationship, very close relationship, spent a lot of time together this summer, and so this is not one of those things that goes away right away, and I don’t know when it goes away.”

Read More