For eight and a half seasons, Luke Walton went to battle alongside Kobe Bryant as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers. He had a front row seat to watch greatness on an NBA basketball court each and every night.
January 26, 2020 is a date that Walton, and so many others, will never forget. It is a dark day in the history of the NBA, marking when Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna, as well as John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, Christina Mauser, Sarah and Payton Chester, and pilot Ara Zobayan perished in a helicopter accident in Calabasas, California.
“It’s kind of mind blowing that it’s been a year already,” Walton, who is with the Kings in Orlando for Wednesday’s game against the Magic said. “It’s one of those powerful events I think that if you’re a member of this basketball world, you’ll never forget where you were.”
The Kings had a break in the schedule that Sunday morning, but they had loaded on to a team bus and were on their way to practice. They heard the news in the same way that most of the world did, through social media.
“I remember every emotion, like it was yesterday,” Walton said. “I was sitting on that bus. Every thought...the denial, all of it. It’s tough, it’s painful.”
Plenty of the players on that Kings bus were Kobe disciples. De’Aaron Fox was lucky enough to spend a few hours with Bryant before his death during a camp. Buddy Hield modeled his work ethic after the Lakers great. Bogdan Bogdanovic wore No. 8 in his honor of Bryant, and Harrison Barnes has spoken about the influence that Bryant had on him as a player.
For Walton, there was a different bond. The Kings players know how close a group becomes over a few seasons of traveling together, eating together, winning and losing together. Walton had those experiences with Kobe.
He watched the work and dedication Bryant put into his craft and the sacrifices he made to become one of the game’s greats.
“I feel lucky, I feel honored to have spent that amount of time with him,” Walton said. “To be his teammate, to really feel and compete in these games with him and those experiences and have those memories of on and off the court of hanging out, laughing and joking and winning and losing and everything else, I feel honored and lucky to have gotten to get to go through all of that.”
Walton said that there are plenty of individual memories that he has of Bryant both on and off the court. But instead of a single moment, it was the overall feeling of being around Bryant and the mentality that he put towards everything in life that stood out.
“There was no excuses, there was no anything, it was just all in, total belief, total confidence and really, being able to achieve great unthinkable things when you don’t put limits and you’re willing to work harder than everyone else,” Walton said. “It’s more kind of being around that greatness is where I take my inspiration from the time I got to spend with him”
This date isn’t going away. It will continue to be a moment of remembrance for so many people that were impacted by the life and legacy of Bryant’s career. That is something that Walton said sticks with him.
“Every year on this day, I would imagine that they’ll be millions of people honoring him and talking about him,” Walton said. “He got taken too early, but that’s pretty special, pretty powerful to have that type of impact and influence on so many people.”
In addition to the one year anniversary of the passing of Kobe, Gianna and the passengers and pilot of the Calabasas crash, the NBA world is grieving another loss on Tuesday.
Long time NBA writer and television personality for NBA TV, Sekou Smith, was added to the list of more than 400,000 Americans that have lost their battles with the COVID-19 virus. Smith was known as a positive force in the industry, taking time out of his day to help young journalists all over the county.
Smith leaves behind his wife Heather, their three children, Gabriel, Rielly, and Cameron, and countless family members and friends.