- Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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LOS ANGELES — Doc Rivers saw “adversaries” all around him at Staples Center, all brought together by the power of Kobe Bryant.
The LA Clippers coach was one of many NBA legends, All-Stars and coaching luminaries on hand Monday for the Celebration of Life for Kobe and Gianna Bryant. While the packed Staples Center crowd cried and sniffled throughout the ceremony, Rivers said he felt this was the first time family, friends and the city could start to move on from grieving to celebrating Bryant’s life.
“It’s just been a very heavy month, it’s everywhere,” Rivers said of Los Angeles, which as been grieving since the helicopter crash Jan. 26. “There’s days you get away from it, like the games are great now because you’re focused on the games, but you know it’s just. … It’s broken or just broken-hearted.
“It’s been a broken-hearted city. Probably something I’ve never seen before, ever, anywhere, and it’s still there a little bit, for sure. But today will help.”
Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dwyane Wade, Shaquille O’Neal, Jerry West, Magic Johnson, Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, and a Houston Rockets trio of James Harden, Russell Westbrook and P.J. Tucker were among the many former and current NBA stars who attended the celebration.
“This morning was beautiful,” said Rivers, who remained at Staples Center for the Clippers’ game against the Memphis Grizzlies. “It was emotional… you know what was interesting as you just looked around at all those people — it just brought people together. You can want to beat someone’s brains out and still respect them, and you saw that today. You saw all these adversaries all through the arena, heck the Kings were sitting right behind me after they just beat us the other night.”
Like so many others, Rivers was in awe of Vanessa Bryant talking about her husband and daughter and an emotional Jordan giving the world a glimpse into his relationship with Kobe Bryant.
“I don’t know how Vanessa did it,” said Rivers, who had dinner with his friend and former Laker adversary in January. “I don’t know how that was possible. I thought Michael, like if you could pick one representation of Kobe, they picked a perfect … he may have been the only choice when you think about it. And his delivery was amazing, so there were so many good things.”
After the celebration, Rivers said he and the VIP guests caught up for about an hour.
“I talked to people in the NBA that I hadn’t seen in forever, or people that I’ve competed against, coaches, Phil and Pop [Gregg Popovich],” Rivers said. “It was just a great day, it really was. And it was more of a celebration and I think that’s where I feel like we’re at now, we can start celebrating his life and that was good.”
Harden, Westbrook and Tucker attended the ceremony, then flew back to Houston for a game Monday night against the New York Knicks, arriving a little more than an hour before tipoff. Harden, who scored 37 points in a 123-112 Houston victory, said it was important for him to be at the memorial to pay his respects.
“Obviously, it’s a tough time for them, the entire world,” Harden said, “So it was a must that I be there, show my respects.”
Harden then described how some of what he learned from Kobe helped carry him through the day.
“Numerous times [Kobe] talked about your path, and the road that you’re on, and there’s always going to be tough times, times when you don’t want to work hard, and you just don’t feel like it,” Harden said. “Those are the times you just have to push through.
“Obviously, the journey is one thing, but the steps you have to take to get to that journey is another thing. That’s what makes you a champion, that’s what binds you. That’s why he was put on this earth.”
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