It was a year ago Tuesday when Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gigi and seven other people died in a helicopter crash and on that day the sudden shock caused games to be called off with NBA players broken by the news, unable to play and unable to talk about it.
A year later, the words still come haltingly. The legend of Kobe may be even larger in death than his tremendous impact in life. Some players still can’t find the words. Some are still coming to terms with the loss.
Austin Rivers was one of the many players who Bryant willingly shared his wisdom with, serving as a mentor at times. As the Knicks readied for the final game of their four-game road trip against the Jazz, he tried to find the words.
"I have multiple things, that’s why I’m taking my time just picking one," Rivers said after a long pause. "If I had to choose making a statement he’s helped me with, in times of doubt and in times of failure, trust your hard work. He used to come up to me and talk to me about all my games, just about all of them. Especially early on when I was young. And especially when I was struggling.
"My first two-and-a-half years, I think to anybody’s knowledge, or anybody who knows me, I wasn’t playing my best basketball, to put it nicely. And I was really struggling to find myself in the NBA. And he was someone who would come up and talk to me after the games. Nothing crazy. I don’t want to overblow what our relationship was. He didn’t call me or text me or anything like that. But he would take his time and talk to me after the game when he didn’t have to. And he would always stress about what my game is, understanding what my game is. Watching film of myself. What do I want to be and where do I want to be, what spots do I want to be at. And he used to talk about preparation and hard work. And he helped me in a big way, to that regard."
The NBA has paid tribute to Bryant with honors on the court and then last season commissioner Adam Silver announced that the All-Game MVP award would be permanently named for Bryant.
But a year later the legacy has grown. The memories are just as fresh for many who knew him. When Rivers was on the court for the Knicks' morning shootaround Tuesday he looked around and noticed how many of his teammates had shed their normal footwear and opted instead to pay tribute.
"It’s one of those sad things," Rivers said. "You see somebody who is gone so quickly and you immediately feel for him, you feel for his family, you feel for his legacy. He was just getting going. But on the same note, you see the impact he had on everyone’s life. That’s what you guys are asking about. This is a year ago and today we’re talking about it. I still see posts about him all the time because he meant so much to everyone.
"I looked on the court today and I saw nine guys in shootaround wearing his sneakers. That’s something that money can’t buy — that type of legacy. The stuff that he has is stuff you can’t really explain. He’s changed the game. I’ve only seen a couple guys change the game like Kobe. You could say LeBron, Kobe and Mike, in terms of my lifetime. Those are my three, I think, greatest players of all time and I think those are the guys that have changed the NBA more than anybody. So, yeah, Kobe’s a legend man. He’s a G.O.A.T. There’s no doubt about it."