PORTLAND, Ore. — After Sunday's game, members of the Portland Trail Blazers spoke to the media and took questions about Kobe Bryant, who died Sunday in a helicopter crash in southern California.
The players found out about the crash, which took the lives of nine people, including Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, just hours before the game.
Inside the Moda Center, fans observed a 24-second moment of silence prior to player introductions. At the start of the game, the Blazers and Pacers honored Bryant. Portland held the ball for a 24-second shot clock violation and the Pacers followed that with an eight-second violation for not crossing the halfcourt line. Bryant wore No. 8 and No. 24 during his career.
Portland, behind another 50-point performance by Damian Lillard, earned one of their best wins of the season, beating the Indiana Pacers 139-129. But after the game, the conversation returned to Bryant.
Carmelo Anthony considered Bryant one of his closest friends. During an emotional interview, Anthony said Sunday's game was the hardest he's ever had to play in his career. He said his friendship with Bryant transcended the sport.
"Our relationship was deeper than basketball. It was family. It was friendship. Basketball was the last piece of connective tissue between us two," Anthony said.
Lillard said he developed a friendship with Bryant over the years, and what stood out to him the most was how gracious Bryant was with his time.
"The thing that stands out to me the most, was how, every time I reached out to him, every time I tried to speak with him, he got back to me. He would text back, he would call back," Lillard said. "When you think about it, he's Kobe Bryant. How many people are pulling his leg, trying to reach out to him and get in touch with him, how many players? That was special to me, somebody I grew up, looked up to and cheered for, I became one of his peers and got to know him and became friends with him."
Blazers guard CJ McCollum said he looked to Bryant as a mentor and role model.
"He was the guy that I was afraid to meet, him and Michael Jordan. I knew LeBron growing up, although he's Mt. Rushmore great, Kobe was the one I didn't really know, so he was the guy I was afraid to meet," McCollum said. "That really hurt, just to see the reception across the country and how many lives he impacted from people that didn't even know him. That shows you how special he was outside of basketball, and I just pray for his wife and his family, because Lord knows what they're going through."