In the wake of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna's tragic passing, touching tributes have abounded around the country and world. Last night and throughout pregame of a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, the Bulls organization and fans decorated the United Center — inside and out — in Bryant's honor.
Before the game, one which feels hollow in the scope of the events of the past 48 hours, Gregg Popovich offered reflections on his time knowing Bryant. Popovich's Spurs and Bryant's Lakers battled numerous times throughout the aughts and early 2010s, but he said his most poignant memories of Bryant go beyond the hardwood.
"He was somebody that I always respected just because he was so much more than a basketball player. He was highly intelligent, inquisitive, curious. We all know about his competitiveness, but he was a strategist. He focused. He was driven. And would have been successful no matter what he chose to do in life," Popovich said. "We all remember the on-court, but to me, the special parts will be the very few times I was able to spend time with him off the court and have discussions with him just one-on-one for a variety of different reasons.
"We all have special thoughts of him to varying degrees no matter whether you knew him a little bit or not at all, even the millions that admired him and cherished just knowing you could watch a game with him in it. You feel like he was your own. That's when happens when you're iconic and you're basically a superhero."
The impact of this loss is felt more deeply because of how many lives Bryant touched in his all-too-few 41 years.
"I think it's pretty obvious what Kobe's impact was on the league. Millions of people. On each team, the young kids on your team idolized him and looked up to him," Popovich said. "And the older ones knew him and talked to him and had relationships with him. So, no matter which one of those groups you belong to, it was a tragic shock, obviously, because it was so unexpected. You don't dream of things like that."
Popovich also extended further condolences to all families affected by the tragedy.
"There are no words to adequately describe such a horrific event, I don't think," he said. "You just offer your heartfelt sympathies to the Bryant family and to all the other families, and all we can all do is just hope that at some point in life they find some peace and some understanding. That's all you can do."
The Spurs went on as scheduled for a game with the Toronto Raptors on Sunday, one which took place mere hours after news broke of Bryant's passing. It was one of eight games to take place that night, all wracked by grief that isn't likely to subside soon.
"I don't think anybody was," Popovich said when asked if he felt they were able to play their best game so soon after learning the news. "It didn't matter whether it was us or Toronto, I think everybody was in a little bit of a fog, which was expected.
"I think it'll still take some time, especially for the guys that knew him the best. To get back whole, just mentally and psychologically, emotionally more than anything. It's a tough thing."
Tonight, Jim Boylen said the Bulls and Spurs plan to honor Bryant with 8- and 24-second violations to start the game. The Bulls will also show a tribute video.