As he started to address the media before Sunday’s Hawks-Wizards game, a visibly shaken Lloyd Pierce apologized for being emotional.
The Hawks coach explained that his cousin was a pilot in the Navy and died in a helicopter crash in 1998, and his cousin’s widow lives in Atlanta and attends Hawks games. It added another layer of emotion to Pierce on a grief-stricken day as NBA players, coaches and fans mourned the loss of former Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others Sunday.
“It’s hard,” Pierce said. “Our locker room’s shaken, the NBA’s shaken, the community is shaken, everyone is. Because at the end of the day, you respect what he’s been able to accomplish for so many years, in so many different ways.”
- Mark Bradley: Recalling the icy beauty of Kobe Bryant
Both home and visiting team locker rooms remained closed to media before the game, and State Farm Arena observed a moment of silence in Bryant’s honor before tip-off, casting a purple light throughout the arena (Bryant played all of his 20 NBA seasons with the Lakers). Trae Young started the game out wearing a No. 8 jersey, Bryant’s jersey number for the first half of his career, as the Hawks opened with an eight-second violation and the Wizards opened with a 24-second violation in response (Bryant wore No. 24 from 2007-16).
Pierce didn’t have a close personal relationship with Bryant, an 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion who was known as an unyielding competitor on the court. In the wake of Bryant’s passing, Pierce highlighted Bryant’s work ethic and what he did for the game, as well as his focus on family after retiring in 2016.
“I’ve always respected his greatness because of his detail and his passion and the intensity of which he plays,” Pierce said. “But there’s nothing more than the respect I have for him as a father. Every image you see of him post retirement is with his daughters and with his family. Everything you see online, on Twitter, is about positivity. He’s encouraging others, retweeting positive comments to others. And I think it’s been the biggest transformation of a competitor to a human being that I’ve ever seen.”
This season, Bryant had attended two Hawks games with Gianna, the loss to the Lakers in Los Angeles Nov. 17 and the loss to the Nets in Brooklyn Dec. 21. Young tweeted Sunday that upon meeting, Gianna had told him he was her favorite player to watch.
As league MVP in the 2007-08 season, Bryant was an inspiration to many players in the league today.
"He was the one that everyone looks up to, especially this generation of players,” Pierce said. “And to see the way he was coming out of retirement from playing to being just a leader of people, WNBA, AAU programs, children's books, we lost a leader."
Highlighting Bryant’s intensity, Wizards coach Scott Brooks recalled the time Bryant stayed in the game after tearing his Achilles tendon against Golden State in 2013, just to make two free throws, before exiting.
“Words can’t describe, and it doesn’t do it any justice, of who he is and how he impacted the sports world,” Brooks said pregame. “(Not just) basketball, the guy had a mentality that you want your team to play with. The toughness, the determination… Not many guys, if any, played the game better.”
The Hawks released a statement on Bryant’s passing, noting his inspiration on the current generation of players in the league: “We are stunned and profoundly saddened by the tragic news of the deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. Today our NBA family lost one of its modern-day leaders and a champion who inspired so many of this generation’s current players. His insatiable drive, legendary competitive spirit and dedication to the game will forever be remembered and live on through the era of players, fans and athletes around the world who were inspired by his greatness. The entire Hawks organization sends our deepest condolences to Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, their entire family and to the families of the other passengers involved in this heartbreaking accident.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.