TORONTO – The day of mourning and remembrance started early Tuesday in Toronto.
At about 9:30 in the morning, an eagle-eyed Ryerson University student spotted outside of Scotiabank Arena a small collection of flowers along with a basketball and a couple of black No. 8 jerseys with the name “Bryant” emblazoned atop the number.
By the afternoon, this small collection had grown to include balloons, hats and more.
A full-on memorial for the late Kobe Bryant in Toronto. An impromptu gesture that speaks to the impact Bryant had on fans around the world.
Fans in Toronto are paying tribute to Kobe Bryant with a memorial outside of Scotiabank Arena. pic.twitter.com/7nP2mEEEWm
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 28, 2020
But this memorial outside of Scotiabank Arena only served as the prelude of what was to come in the venue on Tuesday evening.
Across the league, there have been many tributes and many heartfelt words spoken in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy, but on Tuesday it was the Toronto Raptors’ turn.
Unlike on Sunday, when the team was caught blindsided by the news in San Antonio, opting to run out the 24-second shot clock to start the game in honour of Bryant’s No. 24, Tuesday was a much more scripted affair.
It began in warmups, when Bryant-related songs played, including Juicy J’s “Who Da Neighbors” and Lil Wayne’s aptly named “Kobe Bryant.”
Then, before player introductions, the Raptors held a video tribute in honour of Bryant followed by a 24-second moment of silence.
Mamba Forever pic.twitter.com/IJya2dRxyB
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) January 29, 2020
The coolest thing, however, came near the end of the third quarter when the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto’s opponent on Tuesday, reach 81 points and their score lit up purple on the main scoreboard in honour of the 81 Bryant dropped on the Raptors in 2006.
These were all initiatives that were well done by the Raptors and left fans on their feet during Toronto’s 130-114 victorious affair that, amid the Bryant tribute, also featured plenty of love for former Raptor Vince Carter – making his second last visit to Toronto before he retires – and for Kyle Lowry, who became the Raptors’ all-time assist leader.
There were smiles all around the arena.
But as happy an evening as Tuesday was for fans in attendance, for players, the memory of Bryant’s loss was still very prevalent.
“It’s hard to find the words to describe what happened, what we went through, what everybody’s going through as a community, as a family,” said Fred VanVleet after the game. “But I think the important thing is that we try to keep pushing as best we can, and pain comes from the love, and I think that’s the tribute to how great somebody is. I think we’re seeing it. We’re all dealing with it together.”
Yes, while there was reason to celebrate in the Raptors’ locker room, what with a win and a milestone for a franchise icon, the tone of the room was still more reserved.
Norman Powell — dressed in a hoodie honouring Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who also lost her life in that tragic helicopter crash Sunday — still seemed very shaken up as he exited the room.
And he wasn’t the only one. Nearly every player did.
“It’s been tough man, it’s been tough,” said Lowry. “Whenever you turn the news on, that’s how you know the man was a world icon. That everything you turn on it’s about this and that, and it’s hard to look at it and it’s hard to know what his family is possibly going through. It’s tough. Every time you think about it you get sad.”
Added VanVleet: “I’ve been crying enough, so I’m gonna try not to cry now. It’s super super sad, as a human being, human beings, that were involved, the families that were involved, and then you add on what a fantastic basketball player, and how much he meant to a culture, it’s hard to find words to describe those things. I think we’re all pretty sad and heartbroken, and we should be, and you take your time to grieve and find your ways to deal with it individually.”
As VanVleet said, everyone grieves and deals with loss in their own way, but Pascal Siakam, who lost his father in a car accident in 2014, has unique perspective on the hurt Bryant’s family and those of the other seven victims in Sunday’s crash are going through.
“For someone that knows what it’s like to lose somebody that you really love, all I can do is pray for families involved and hope that God can give them strength to go through this tough time,” said Siakam. “There’s not much you can really say but keep them in your prayers and hope that they’re strong enough to overcome.”
Specifically about Bryant, Siakam is bereaved by a missed chance to meet the Mamba.
“I didn’t really get the chance to have a relationship with him,” said Siakam. “And I remember in the playoffs and he did a Detail on me, like one of those episodes, and I was pretty excited just knowing that he knows about me and knows about my game and him giving me a little advice.
“I remember watching that and trying to soak up any new knowledge that I can to improve my game. And things that he saw that I could do better, from being able to develop a mid-range to working on different footwork. So watching that was something that was really big for me.
“And I was invited to the Mamba Camp that he had in the summer and I wasn’t able to go, so that really hurt me, too. Just knowing that was my chance to meet him and maybe have a relationship with him or see things that he sees in my game and learn from him. So I was definitely mad at myself about that. I feel I kind of missed an opportunity.”
This feeling of ‘would’ve, could’ve’ Siakam expressed is felt by just about everyone.
On Tuesday, the Raptors did a fine job of honouring Bryant, but it would’ve been a whole lot nicer if it wasn’t necessary at all.