Ian Begley, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Several NBA players weighed in on the league's decision to play Sunday's slate of games, including the Knicks' 110-87 win over the Nets at Madison Square Garden, in the wake of Kobe Bryant's death.
Some, like Damian Lillard and Kawhi Leonard, felt that playing on Sunday was the proper way to honor Bryant, one of the most relentless competitors in NBA history.
"I know he'd have wanted me to come out here and try to ball and still just be great, so that's what I tried to do tonight," said Leonard, who knew Bryant personally, on Sunday.
Other players, like Knicks veteran Marcus Morris, wondered why games were played while players' emotions remained so raw.
"Guys that actually played with him, that was on the scene with him, they took it the toughest," Morris said Sunday. "Honestly, I don't think we should have played, but it is what it is. It's devastating news and I just really pray for his family."
On Monday, we reached someone with knowledge of the NBA's decision-making process who shed light on some of the factors that led to Sunday's game being played.
"Honestly, I don't think we should have played"- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) January 27, 2020
Marcus Morris says everyone is devastated over the loss of Kobe Bryant pic.twitter.com/WuX0aLYEe1
- The idea that cancelling Sunday's slate of games would be setting a precedent that's challenging to uphold in similar circumstances. For example, if a player that isn't as well-known as Bryant dies, does the NBA have an obligation to cancel that day's games? Or, if an all-time great from a past era dies of natural causes, would the league be obligated to postpone that day's games?
- The idea that Bryant, renowned for his drive and competitive nature, would want games to be played Sunday, under the circumstances. For what it's worth, that thought was echoed by several people around the league who knew Bryant well.
- There was no strong push to cancel the games from the players or teams scheduled to play Sunday. And on the league side, the possibility of cancelling games was considered, but there was not a high level of support for the move. People involved with the decision said it was a difficult one to make, and they certainly weren't blind to the idea that players were hurting in the wake of Bryant's death. But they ultimately felt that playing was the right thing to do.
"I would say that it was a tribute to Kobe to go out and play the game" pic.twitter.com/aVvr53z9XU- Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) January 27, 2020
- Another circumstance taken into account: Bryant played his entire career with the Lakers. Had the Lakers been playing on Sunday, the league would have canceled that game. As an example, in 2013, the NBA cancelled a Celtics home game in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings. The NBA announced Monday evening that Tuesday's Lakers-Clippers game had been canceled. Whether Sunday's game should have been played depends on your point of view.
Knicks veteran Taj Gibson is among those who thought Bryant would have wanted the games to be played.
"He'd want you to go out there and play hard, to go out there and lay it on the line," Gibson said Sunday night. "That was one thing about him all through the years when I was playing against him -- he always loved competing."
Gibson says NBA lost a 'superhero'
Gibson was one of several Knicks to offer thoughts on Bryant after Sunday's game.
"Thank you for being a G.O.A.T.," Gibson said. "Thank you for being a true definition of a superstar, paving the way for guys like myself, guys for the future to come in. He left such a great mark. Condolences to the Bryant family, the other families that were in the crash.
"By the time I came into the league, even before I came into the league, even when I was in USC, he was always supportive, always like a first-class kind of guy. He'd play in the street tournaments. He loved the game. All throughout the years, whenever I saw him, (I'd) always pick his mind about the game. No matter who you were, he would give you the same love, as long as you competed.
"It feels like we lost a superhero. The locker room felt it. Guys were just out of it. We love you, Kobe. We're going to keep you in prayer, your family in prayer. Rest in peace."
Ntilikina studied Bryant
Frank Ntilikina spent time with Bryant in Portland, Oregon, through a Nike connection the summer after his 2017-18 rookie season.
Ntilikina said he learned a lot from Bryant, both during that time and throughout his days as a younger player in France.
"He made me and millions and millions of kids dream to be in this position one day," Ntilikina said. "... I'm just so thankful for everything that he did for the game and the person he is.
"It's funny because at first, it's not like I didn't like him, but I wasn't a big fan because of his attitude. But when you grow up and you know more about the game, you realize stuff and you have nothing but respect for the guy.
"He was just a killer. One of the best to ever play this game. How I studied him allowed me to improve not only as a player but as a man. I'm thankful."