CLEVELAND — Los Angeles Lakers great Kobe Bryant may be gone, but certainly, he is not forgotten in the sports world.
Days after Bryant, his daughter, Gianna, and seven others perished in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, Sunday, NBA teams and players have honored their fallen brother in several ways, and prior to tonight’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love donned a Bryant purple No. 8 Lakers jersey.
Love shared a picture of himself walking into the game on Instagram, and in just one hour, the photo received more than 70,000 likes.
Love and Bryant were teammates on Team USA when the Americans brought home the Olympic gold medal at the 2012 London Summer Olympics. Following the news of Bryant’s passing, Love took to Instagram to share a personal message in the caption of a photo of the two standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the medal podium.
“I grew up with Kobe being one of if not my favorite player, so you automatically assume it can’t happen to somebody like that,” Love said prior to Monday’s game between the Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. “You believe that Kobe is invincible, so you hear it and it’s confusing. It’s disbelief, it’s frustration, and then, that turns to tears and today, it’s just numbness.”
In 20 seasons with the Lakers, Bryant scored 33,643 points, pulled down 7,047 rebounds, handed out 6,306 assists, converted 44.7 percent of his 26,200 shots from the field and knocked down 1,827 three-pointers.
More than the numbers, Bryant’s success can be measured by the five championship teams he was a part of and the tireless work ethic and competitiveness, both on and off the court that led him to leave the game as the No. 3 scorer in league history, only to be surpassed by former Cavaliers great LeBron James just hours before his passing.
Bryant left the game as a two-time NBA Finals MVP, the 2008 NBA Most Valuable Player, an 18-time NBA All-Star, four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, was selected to the All-NBA First Team 11 times and the NBA All-Defensive First Team on nine occasions.
Bryant was a two-time NBA scoring champion and winner of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1997.
Bryant’s jersey numbers, 8 and 24, have been retired by the Lakers, cementing his place among the greatest basketball players in NBA history.
“He just so much more than a basketball player to so many,” Love said. “He transcended the sport, transcended the game and he’s an icon. He brought the game to where it is today and for people who grew up with (Michael) Jordan, he was the next phase. He was 2.0.
“It breaks all of our hearts, myself who got to know him firsthand, become a friend of his, share the court with him in All-Star games and the 2012 Olympics, not only seeing him as a basketball player but as a father as well. It’s a guy that was likely going to do more, and that’s saying a lot in his second act.”