On Monday morning, the Utah Jazz went back to work.
It wasn’t a normal day at the Zions Bank Basketball Campus, though. Kobe Bryant’s shocking death at the age of 41 on Sunday was at the top of everyone’s mind, and perhaps it was Ed Davis, who spent the 2014-15 season with Bryant and the Lakers, who best summed up the reaction to the news.
“He was so young. Then we found out his daughter was on the chopper. That’s when it really hit,” Davis said. "Especially with me having kids and having two nieces, dealing with that and seeing pictures and videos of her. You know, she was always so happy, always smiling.”
Davis said the thing that stood out about Bryant as a teammate was his work ethic and his legendary capacity for self belief. Yesterday, Davis picked up his phone and typed in Bryant’s name. He went through old text messages.
“He was talking when I first signed there in 2014, he was talking about winning championships. He’s probably the only one in the world that thought that team could win a championship. That was a 20 win team at best,” Davis said. "But that shows how much he thought of himself. He really thought he could win a championship. His mindset was on another level. I’ve played with a lot of superstars, guys who are going to be in the Hall of Fame, first-team All-NBA guys. He separated himself from everyone else.”
The franchise remembered Bryant by holding a moment of silence before tipoff. Then, both teams took violations — the Jazz a 24-second shot-clock turnover, the Rockets taking an 8-second backcourt giveaway. Fans at Vivint Arena gave both a standing ovation, and chanted Kobe’s name throughout.
Jordan Clarkson considered Kobe Bryant a mentor thanks to his two years playing alongside him in the Lakers lineup. Coincidentally, Clarkson had named Bryant his toughest opponent in an appearance with premium Jazz ticket holders on Saturday, and spoke with reverence for Bryant’s game. Clarkson went through shootaround, but didn’t speak with reporters Monday.
Quin Snyder coached Bryant for one season, but the two became “extremely close”, according to a 2016 interview with the Lakers star. Bryant said the pair were “basketball nerds,” and the pair had a "great time. He’s a great, great coach.”
"I felt like I could learn from him and was honest about that,” Snyder said then. “I also felt I knew a little bit about what was going on. He respected the fact I was hungry to learn and also understood a little bit about the game.”
Snyder did speak to the media Monday, but was clearly still in the initial stages of grieving. He answered just three questions, and understandably didn’t want to get into the particulars of Bryant’s life or their relationship.
“There’s a lot of people that have commented more eloquently than I can right now. But I know the time —although it was a short period of time — the impact that [Kobe] had on me in multiple ways. He was someone that touched so many people, and was truly a unique human being,” Snyder said.
Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert didn’t know Bryant extremely well. Mitchell filmed a commercial with Bryant’s BodyArmor sport drink company, while Gobert just played against him. But both players were inspired by Bryant’s example, albeit in different ways.
“Guys like myself, it was either Kobe or 'Bron growing up, you know, it was one of the two. You had no other choice,” Mitchell said. The young Jazz guard was a LeBron fan growing up, but said that he started watching more film of Kobe’s once he got into the NBA and realized he could learn from his example.
But what most stood out was when Bryant spent 23 minutes breaking down Mitchell’s performance in the Jazz’s first playoff matchup against the Houston Rockets in 2018 for his ESPN+ series, “Detail.”
“I was in shock that he was talking about me,” Mitchell said. “He knew my name. He knew my game. I think that’s that’s one of the wildest things to me. I watched that video yesterday — just, like, ‘wow.’”
Gobert’s example showed just how much Bryant meant to the game of basketball globally.
“When I first started playing basketball, I didn’t know nobody. I watched ‘Space Jam,’ that was the only thing I knew about basketball,” Gobert said. "But most of the kids I was playing, they’d have a jersey #8 with Bryant on the back. There was Bryant and Shaq, those were the two jerseys that we had. After a while I was about to find out who he was, and he was one of my favorite players.”
Bryant was the world’s most famous basketball player for a decade, maybe more. But Mitchell pointed out that Bryant “transcended basketball,” becoming iconic even off the court.
“I grew up yelling ‘Kobe!’, you know, shooting paper into a trash can,” he said. “People shouldn’t stop doing that.”