The two Nets who knew Kobe Bryant the best honored the deaths of the future Hall of Famer and his daughter Gianna with their obviously inspired play Wednesday night at Barclays Center. Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving totaled 48 points to lead the Nets to a 125-115 victory over the Pistons.
Dinwiddie, who recently spoke tearfully of how honored he was when Bryant told him in December that he was an “All-Star in my book,” performed like one with 28 points, shooting 8-for-13,and totaling six assists. Irving added 20 points and five assists for the Nets (20-26), who also got 22 points and seven rebounds from Taurean Prince.
Reggie Jackson topped the Pistons (17-32) with 23 points, and they got 22 from Derrick Rose and 20 from Christian Wood. Brooklyn fans celebrated in the final minute of the game by chanting “Ko-be Bry-ant! Ko-be Bryant!” and then “Gi-gi Bry-ant! Gi-gi Bry-ant!” in tribute.
The Nets’ matchup against the Pistons was their first home game since the tragic deaths of Bryant, his daughter and seven others on Sunday in a helicopter crash in Los Angeles. Like every other NBA team, the Nets held a pregame tribute, beginning with a moment of silence during a 24-second shot clock countdown.
Then they put the names of Bryant and his daughter on the video board along with the numbers Bryant wore for the Lakers – No. 24 and No. 8. That was followed by Bryant highlight video with an especially poignant ending that showed Kobe and Gianna sitting in the celebrity courtside seats on Dec. 21 when the Nets played the Hawks at Barclays Center. Those two seats remained vacant except for a floral bouquet placed on each one. After the game, Dinwiddie recalled sharing that moment with Kobe and Gianna in December.
“That was big-time for me,” Dinwiddie said. “As a person, I don’t really search for the typical or traditional validation because of the road I’ve had in understanding what that means. But that was a place where I definitely sought to find some validation. It was cool.”
Dinwiddie honored Bryant by changing his jersey from No. 8 to No. 26, which has personal significance for Dinwiddie and his son, Elijah, but also because Bryant’s No. 24 and his daughter’s No. 2 jersey add up to 26. Instead of wearing his own brand of sneakers, Dinwiddie wore Bryant’s brand. As it turned out, Dinwiddie scored 10 points in a 12-2 fourth-quarter run that pushed the lead to 111-97 and gave the Nets control.
Irving, who cried during the national anthem, seemed equally inspired. After the game, he said he was trying not to break down in front of the media, and he said he has been grieving along with the Bryant family since the tragedy and promised there will be developments in coming days to commemorate the lives that were lost.
Irving spoke at length about his relationship with Bryant and how it goes back about five years, when he approached Bryant for advice about the game and life. “He left a lot of teachings, a lot of bread crumbs I call them, and I just followed every single one,” Irving said. “That probably plays a lot of focus into the person I am today. It’s just really listening, asking questions about what he was doing to create.
“Also, with his daughter Gigi, him opening up doors and opportunities in women’s sports. We talked about it all the time. I saw what he was creating and I wanted that same structure. He had his own company, he had his own beliefs, he had his own principles that he lived by…It was all-encompassing in our relationship. It was so much deeper than basketball.”