MINNEAPOLIS — On the schedule, the Wolves-Kings game Monday night at Target Center looked like an ordinary matchup of two teams working their way through disappointing seasons.
Only on Monday nothing in the NBA felt ordinary and it’s likely to remain that way for a while.
A day after former Lakers star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash at the age of 41, there was a sorrow that existed in the downtown Minneapolis building that couldn’t be removed no matter how hard the public address announcer or in-game entertainment people might have tried. It was too soon for a return to normalcy.
“It’s hard to wrap your head around right now with everything,” Wolves coach Ryan Saunders told reporters after the morning shootaround. “I know these guys, we tried to be as business as usual, because as competitors and the competitor that Kobe was, that’s what he’d say. You’ve got to compete. But it affects all of us greatly.”
That was in evidence in numerous ways Monday evening.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Robert Covington wore Nos. 24 and 8, respectively, in pregame warmups. Those were the numbers Bryant wore during his career with the Lakers. Towns briefly addressed the fans before the game to talk about Bryant and that was followed by a tribute video. An image of Bryant wearing a shirt to honor Ryan’s father, Flip, in the Lakers’ first game against the Wolves after Flip passed away in 2015 was shown.
The Wolves opened the game by taking an 8-second violation and the Kings responded by having De’Aaron Fox take a 24-second violation. Fox then returned the ball to the free-throw line on which it had sat as the Wolves did not move it to open the game.
An 8-second violation with the ball at the free throw line where Kobe Bryant passed MJ in scoring.
— SKOR North (@SKORNorth) January 28, 2020
The Wolves ended up somehow blowing a 27-point third-quarter lead in a 133-129 overtime loss to the Kings, despite making a team-record 23 three-pointers. That extended the Wolves’ losing streak to 10 games. That’s one off the team’s longest losing streak of the season.
The game opened with the ball resting on the same free-throw line on which Bryant had sank two shots on Dec. 14, 2014 to pass Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s career scoring list. LeBron James, now with the Lakers, moved past Bryant on that same list on Saturday in Bryant’s hometown of Philadelphia. James did it with Mamba 4 Life” on his Nike shoes.
One day later, Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were gone in a tragic accident in California. Twenty-four hours later, it remained difficult to process.
“Been one of the harder times of my life the last 24 hours,” Kings coach Luke Walton, a teammate of Bryant’s on the Lakers, told reporters. “Kobe was a friend, a teammate, most importantly a father. I know that’s what was most important to him. The love he had for his family and his daughters is heartbreaking and it’s tough to deal with, honestly. The basketball world, we lost one of our greats, and I don’t just mean that by what he did on the court, but just the way he lived his life. Every day he got the most out of it. … I don’t know if I’ve fully accepted it, but it’s really hard to think that we don’t have him with us anymore.”
The Lakers were scheduled to play the Clippers on Tuesday at Staples Center but on Monday that game was postponed by the NBA. It was the Lakers’ decision whether to play the game as scheduled and it was understandable that the franchise Bryant led to five NBA titles simply wasn’t ready to return to the court.
The Lakers almost certainly weren’t alone. The NBA elected to go on with the eight games on its schedule on Sunday, even though many players and coaches had to fight back tears as they tried to play games that suddenly seemed unimportant. Oklahoma City star guard Chris Paul missed his first game of the season Monday as he mourned Bryant’s death, according to ESPN.
On that December night in 2014, the Timberwolves celebrated Bryant’s greatness when he passed Jordan on the scoring list by stopping the game. A Lakers heavy crowd in Target Center gave Bryant a standing ovation and Taylor presented him with the game ball. Bryant received hugs from his Lakers teammates and Wolves players alike.
Many had grown up watching the ultra-competitive Bryant dominate the NBA and it was no secret that several of those players were awestruck by Bryant. That night was a celebration of a basketball superhero. The fact that just over five years later the Wolves were mourning the loss of that same player in Target Center remained nearly impossible to process.