Pistons' Blake Griffin says Kobe Bryant 'inspired millions'
Detroit — Like most sports fans, the Pistons players received the news about Kobe Bryant’s untimely death on Sunday with shock, horror and disbelief.
Many of them doubted the stunning news as being a cruel, elaborate hoax and searched frantically online to verify it before the reality eventually sunk in.
“Fake news,” Pistons guard Reggie Jackson said of his initial thoughts upon hearing of the helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, that killed Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and the other seven passengers aboard.
The news gripped not only the sports world but many around the globe — whether they were hardcore sports fans or casual observers — on Sunday and continued into Monday, with remembrances and tributes.
Several teams played Sunday night and chose to honor Bryant in a variety of ways. On Monday, the Pistons paid homage to Bryant by wearing black "Motor City Edition" jerseys with either No. 8 or No. 24 on both the front and back, with Bryant's name printed above during pregame introductions.
They were worthy tributes to a cultural icon who played such a big role in their development on and off the court.
"I would always watch basketball and any time the Lakers would play, you couldn’t help but watch his every movement because everything he did was just so intense," center Andre Drummond said. "He did everything at 100 percent every time and it’s hard not to love him."
One of Bryant's last legacies is his work ethic and dedication, which several players recalled vividly in their head-to-head matchups against him.
Forward Blake Griffin said the hardest part came later Sunday, when the time came to put Bryant’s death in perspective and process it. Having played in Los Angeles for years with the Clippers, Griffin had many memories of Bryant, including during Griffin’s rookie year, when he first met Bryant as they were both rehabbing injuries.
Bryant and Griffin grew closer and Griffin got to know one of the players he idolized growing up. Griffin said Bryant’s impact wasn’t just about his greatness on the court, but how he was beginning to impact the world in post-retirement.
“He had his hand in so many things. Business-wise, he was just stepping into what he was planning for (the future),” Griffin said Monday. “I obviously looked up to him as a basketball player, but as a human and watching him transition to that and exited the game with so much grace, it was inspirational."
A teary-eyed Griffin continued: “If you inspire one person, you’ve lived a positive and successful life — he inspired millions.”
That included Drummond, who had several memorable moments with Bryant.
"Early in my career, just getting a chance to talk to him, he was one of my heroes growing up as a kid. Playing against him for the first time, it was like having that "Oh, (crap) moment that I’m on the court with Kobe," Drummond said. "Just to get to speak to him and see how humble and nice a guy he was and he gave me different pointers on my game. Every time I’d see him he still said I was grabbing rebounds."
Drummond said he admired Bryant when he was growing up and losing a legend was hard to accept — and will continue to be hard — for one of the cultural icons, both on and off the court.
“He’ll live forever. Kobe has done so much for his game with his intensity, his drive and his fight each and every night, it’ll be something that’s never forgotten,” Drummond said. “He was the Michael Jordan of our generation. Anybody that got a chance to see Jordan play and see him play, they’re both identical players with the same accolades. He was our hero for our generation."
Several players showed their respect in pregame warmups in other ways, including Jackson, who had one gold and one purple shoe, representing the Lakers' colors. Langston Galloway, known for his creative customized shoes, had a vintage pair of Bryant's Nike shoes. Markieff Morris wrote "Mamba Forever" and "RIP 8/24" on his shoes.
The Pistons and Cavaliers also agreed before the game that they would do as other teams did Sunday, taking an intentional 24-second violation and an ensuing 8-second violation, on the first possessions of the game, to honor Bryant.
Pistons vice chairman Arn Tellem, who was Bryant's first agent when he entered the league, provided a tearful homage during the pregame TV broadcast on Fox Sports Detroit.
"He really kind of got him into the league and fathered him into the league and I know it was a very sensitive moment and emotional moment for him," coach Dwane Casey said.