A year ago Tuesday was the day when the sports word was absolutely stunned. That’s the day – Jan. 26, 2020 – when 18-time Los Angeles Lakers All-Star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Cal.
“I remember it so very well,” Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “This is one of those moments in history you know exactly where you were when it occurred.
“(Tuesday will) be a gut-wrenching day.”
Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone also remembers when he first heard the dreadful news of Bryant’s passing.
“I remember last year we were playing a home game against Houston – and it was an afternoon game – and I remember one of the coaches came into the office and said, ‘Hey, there are rumors that Kobe Bryant was in a helicopter crash,’ and I just refused to believe it as I’m sure most people did,” Malone said before Monday’s 117-113 victory over the Mavs. “And as the next hour or so passed and those rumors were confirmed, the feeling in our locker room was the most morbid, quiet, eerie feeling I’ve ever met in any locker room. And I grew up in this business.
“All of our players looked up to Kobe Bryant, and I’m sure all of the players miss him.”
Carlisle recalls how much of a tremendous competitor Bryant was. How much taking the crucial shots with the game on the line was a major part of his DNA.
“I’ve got one great memory and a lot of bad memories,” Carlisle said. “When you competed against him you were always competing against the very best who was always pushing it to get to an even higher level.
“Kobe Bryant, he and (Michael) Jordan, were two guys that were at the very top in terms of pushing the game competitively. He was a tireless worker. There were a lot of nights he hit big shots against my teams.”
The Mavs, though, did get the best of Bryant when they met the Lakers in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. At the time, the Laker were the two-time defending NBA champions.
The Mavs wound up sweeping the Lakers, 4-0, in that contentious best-of-seven series en route to capturing the NBA title. That series also wound up being the last for former Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
“The good memory I have is in 2011 when we beat those guys,” Carlisle said. “But as I mentioned last year around this time, my warm memories are just him as the respectful competitor.
“He was a guy, any time I ran into him in the hallway he’d give a warm handshake and, ‘Coach, how you doing?’ But in the back of that eyeball, you knew there was a killer who was waiting to go at you next time.”
Malone had that same sentiment about Bryant, who played his entire career (1996-2016) for the Lakers and was a very admirable person on and off the court.
“I bet you most coaches don’t have favorite moments, because Kobe was an assassin,” Malone said. “He’s one of the greatest to ever do it, and every time we were trying to game plan against one of Kobe’s teams it was a tremendous challenge for you as a coaching staff and for you as a team because he was that tough of a cover.
“I was in Golden State the night he tore his Achilles and the guy had the physical and mental toughness to stay in the game and make his free throws before he was carried him off the court. I was with the (New York) Knicks early on in my NBA career when he had a stretch of 40-point games, and he put on a show in Madison Square Garden.”
COVID-19 update: Mavs players Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are still sidelined due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. But that may be changing soon.
“There’s no one back yet from the COVID protocols, but three guys are making progress with workouts post-COVID protocols,” Carlisle said. “Powell, Finney Smith and Richardson. . .if things keep progressing there’s a chance we could get one, two or possibly three of these guys back this week. That’s kind of where things are right now.”
Richardson and Finney-Smith have missed the past nine games, while Powell and Kleber have sat out the last eight games. It’s noteworthy to the Mavs that they know their depth will drastically improve once those four players are back in the fold.
“It’s positive news for sure, but we just simply cannot exhale during this period of time in our history,” Carlisle said. “Any time you think you kind of got things under control, there could be something else lurking.
“We got to keep our guard up, we got to keep following all the rules and protocols. Hopefully we’ll get these guys back sometimes soon. It’ll be a great boost for us.”
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