KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – With two minutes to play in the Lady Vols contest with LSU, Tennessee held a three-point lead with just two minutes left to play in Sunday’s contest against LSU. Yet, the eyes of many were fixated on their cellphones. Their minds, not on the game in front of them, but the game of an NBA great.
The news of Kobe Bryant’s sudden passing ricocheted through Thompson-Boling Arena and it was greeted with shock, disbelief and sadness. Tennessee won by six points but the joy of victory did not last long.
“And you go in the locker room and you get the news about Kobe Bryant and our team, our staff … We were just gut-wrenched,” Lady Vols coach Kellie Harper said, “It was tough. It was tough. Honestly, it was really tough for me to even address our team.”
To a generation of basketball fans, Kobe Bryant was the first great player many remember being able to watch in their prime.
“That was my favorite player growing up,” said Lady Vols forward Jaiden McCoy. “I was 24 before I came here. It sucks, really sucks.”
“Everybody in basketball just loved him. You either hated him because he was good or you loved because of the kind of person he was. He loved women’s basketball. He supported it. (He) had a daughter who was pursuing a career in basketball. He was a great person,” remarked sophomore guard Jazmine Massengill.
He’s one of the best players to ever play the game but for him to reach backwards and try to help women’s basketball which is somewhat behind men’s basketball right now as far as fans and everything. Him just using his platform to reach out to women’s basketball was huge, that was huge for me.”Tennessee junior guard Rennia Davis
Bryant was a vibrant fan of women’s basketball. Just earlier this week, he said that there are women in the WNBA who can play in the league his legacy is entwined with. In that league, Bryant was an 18-time All-Star, a five-time champion, Two-time NBA finals MVP, one-time league MVP.
When you think Kobe Bryant, you think of the legendary games. His 81 points scored against the Raptors on January 22, 2006 and of course the 60 points scored in his curtain call in 2016. But those numbers aren’t why he was so highly regarded across the game of basketball. It was his tenacity, his grit, his ferocity when approaching the game that made him feel like a supernatural being.
His passing, a reminder of his humanity.
The NBA had eight games on Sunday, Kobe was honored in each. The Knicks held a 24 second moment of since to honor 24. The tributes to Bryant continued throughout the afternoon of NBA play.
Players paid tribute to Bryant at the start of the game. The team that won the opening tip took a 24-second shot clock violation. The opposing team then took an 8-second backcourt violation. A nod to both of Bryant’s numbers, 8 and 24.
An Oscar winner, a future Hall of Famer, an All-Star, a champion, an Olympian, a legend, a father, a husband. Kobe Bryant was 41 years old.