The Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Phoenix Suns 114–109 on Sunday night. But basketball was the furthest thing from most minds after the tragic death of NBA great Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna Bryant, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli Alyssa Altobelli,Christina Mauser, Sarah Chester, Payton Chester, and pilot Ara Zobayan in a helicopter crash in California.
Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins really didn’t want to talk about the game that had transpired before 17, 214 fans. All he wanted to talk about was the loss of Bryant. “Gutsy win by our guys, but I’m not really in the mood to talk about the game as much,” he said. “Obviously, today is a very tough one for a lot of people — the NBA community, the basketball world, the Bryant family, the families of those who have lost family members in a horrific crash today. I said it before the game, it’s obviously something that you don’t wish you were talking about.”
Jenkins continued with his praise of Bryant, “Basketball-wise, to lose a legend, to lose an individual who made a profound impact on the court and off the court not only in the Los Angeles community, but globally. Kobe stood for so many great things — greatness, competitiveness, drive, commitment, inspired generations. So many of our young guys have been touched by what he paved the way for. There are really no words.”
No words is really what many in the NBA community and fans around the world are feeling at this moment. It hit hard.
Jenkins went on to say, “I’m fortunate to be up here today to be able to speak on behalf of our organization, our players. Words only mean so much. It is going to be tough to overcome, but hopefully everyone rallies around not just the families and the organizations, but everyone that has been touched by Kobe and his legacy. He’s carved an unbelievable path. As I said, I wish we weren’t talking about this today but we do have to find a way to celebrate. It’s very raw and emotional right now. Today’s game pales in comparison to the new reality we face without one of the best in the game.”
It was a raw emotional day after the news broke of Bryant’s demise. NBA games were still played and private grief became public.
Prior to tip off, the Grizzlies and the Suns honored Bryant with a moment of silence. After the Grizzlies won the opening tip, Ja Morant dribbled the ball for 24 seconds for a shot-clock violation, then the Suns’ Ricky Rubio held the ball for eight seconds for a backcourt violation to show respect to Bryant. Bryant wore numbers 8 and 24 during his 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers. Everyone was on their feet chanting, Kobe! Kobe! Kobe! A very emotional moment in FedExForum.
a moment to remember a legend pic.twitter.com/nPuL6dVjub— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) January 26, 2020
After the game, Jenkins explained the tributes to the fallen star. “When the news broke, you’re shocked — you don’t know what words to say, Jenkins explained. “My mind went immediately to those who had relationships with him, coached against him, coached with him, played with him, played against him. Finally, we got around to we have to be able to honor him at some point in our small part. A lot of credit goes to our head video guy, T.C. Swirsky. He talked about jersey 24. Can we somehow take a shot clock violation?”
Jenkins went on to say, “I contacted Monty [Williams] and he was thinking the exact same thing. I went over there and talked about how we could, in our small part, pay tribute. Unbelievable by our fans. Obviously, our organization doing a moment of silence, but the fans to chant his name. The players on the court to recognize the impact that those two possessions could have to bring, hopefully, a celebration in a very, very tough time. As I said, I think other teams are doing the same thing. It’s our small part. Now it’s on us to continue to celebrate this beautiful legacy gone way too soon.”
The Grizzlies won the season series against the Suns 3–1 after Sunday’s victory and improved to 22–24 on the year.
Morant scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, to go with eight assists and five rebounds. Dillon Brooks added 20 points, five rebounds, and four assists. In 34 minutes, Jaren Jackson Jr. also tallied 20 points while going 7-of-12 from the field and 3-of-6 from the 3-point line, along with three rebounds and two blocks before fouling out late in the final period. Brandon Clarke chipped in 10 points and seven rebounds as a reserve.
With the loss, the Suns dropped to 19–27 for the season. Devin Booker led all scorers with 36 points, five assists, and two rebounds. Kelly Oubre Jr. tallied 27 points, nine rebounds, and three assists while going 8-of-19 from the field. Deandre Ayton posted his 11th double-double of the season with 17 points, 15 rebounds and two assists. Former Grizzlies player Jevon Carter added eight points, two assists, and three steals off the bench.
Jaren Jackson, Jr.
On playing today after hearing of Kobe Bryant’s passing:
“To be honest, I didn’t feel like doing it, to keep it 100. You’ve got to be a pro. That’s what 2–4 (Kobe Bryant) stood for and there’s no better way to go out there and honor him than to play pro basketball and do what you love, so that’s what we did today. Both teams.”
On what Kobe Bryant means to him:
“Just for the game of basketball and in general and in life, he’s an icon and someone who we all saw growing up. Through all his runs, through everything, he was able to teach and to bring back to the younger playing through camps and Nike, just being able to do a lot. His impact is something that you can’t really fathom because it’s just so great. It definitely hurts.”
On whether playing the game helped him cope and forget about the loss of Kobe Bryant:
“No, it didn’t to be honest. It still hasn’t helped me forget. You ever just know you have to do something so you just try to figure it out and you find a way? That’s what we call it every day. You find a way o go out there and put your best effort out there, and thank God we got a win today. Despite the circumstances, I’m glad we came together as a team and got the job done.”
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