The mood was somber with the 76ers on Monday as they, like the rest of the world, attempted to deal with the stunning Kobe Bryant tragedy.
The Sixers had the day off from practice on Sunday when Bryant and eight others were killed in a helicopter crash in California.
So Monday, before the players took the practice floor, they met as a team to discuss the horrible news, along with what Bryant meant to them. It proved to be cathartic.
“We were very quiet, very sad, we all got a turn to say something about him and his life,” forward-center Al Horford said after Monday’s practice. “Coach [Brett] Brown put a lot of things in perspective for us. I was happy in a way to get with the guys, get us all together in one room.”
It was a good way for the team to share its grief and recount its memories of Bryant together.
“Everybody was expressing their memories of him and their interactions with him and we had a good dialogue," forward Tobias Harris said.
Brown’s story that he told the team about Bryant came when the two met before the five-time NBA champion’s last game in Philadelphia on Dec. 1, 2015. (The Sixers would win that game, 103-91, and snap the 18-game losing streak that began the season.)
Since this was his final season, Bryant was spending time in NBA cities with various people and met with Brown in the coach’s office for about 45 minutes before the game.
“Sitting, talking to him, it was an easy conversation, he cared, he was engaged,” Brown recalled. “It wasn’t something he had to do, he came back and we talked.”
Brown said that Bryant talked a lot about his family and his plans after basketball.
“He blew me away when I asked what life after basketball is for you, and he started talking about animation, he was really involved in animation. And he had this desire to get involved in kids’ literacy, and the connections he would have with his Hollywood and Los Angeles life."
Brown was thoroughly impressed with Bryant’s zest for life.
“He was just in the game,” Brown said. “Even when he was about to leave the game, he was in life, he lived it, you could see in his face, he had a glow.”
That was what Brown told his players as they were swapping stories about Bryant.
On Monday, the NBA announced that it is postponing Tuesday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Clippers at the Staples Center, out of respect for the Lakers organization. The game will be rescheduled at a later date.
The Sixers (30-17) meanwhile, will return to the court on Tuesday when they host the Golden State Warriors (10-37).
Harris, who talked about Bryant being an idol of his while growing up, says the court will serve as his own refuge.
“Basketball has always been a peaceful place for me,” Harris said. “Even in a difficult day like today, it was kind of like relaxing for me to just get out and compete, and I believe it was probably the exact same way for Kobe. Just to be able to go out there and be with teammates and use that competitive fire."
Brown said there are two ways for the players to move on and be ready to compete on Tuesday.
“The difficulty of regrouping is a personal thing, and everybody will deal with it in a way that is most appropriate to them,” Brown said. “As an organization, we will provide resources to those who need it.”
The second way, according to Brown, is to remember how Bryant himself competed: with a fierce, focused determination.
“I went around the room and everybody shared their personal story [of Bryant],” Brown said. “It is hard to remember if anybody didn’t talk about him [as] a maniacal competitor, and maybe that is the connection in justifying moving on.”
Horford commended his fellow NBA players who had to compete on Sunday.
“I have a lot of respect for those teams who went out there and played a game and kind of moved on and honored him and that is something not easy to do," Horford said. “We have time now to practice and get ready for [Tuesday].”
Then pausing, Horford added, “I am sure tomorrow will be emotional.”