Kobe says he was ‘fighting back tears’ following ovation from Staples Center crowd after surgery


The vast majority of days that I work in arenas covering live events, I am not subjected to filing a game story on deadline. It’s by far the worst part of the industry, and it’s what many of the best writers covering the NBA face on a daily basis out of necessity as part of their gigs working for newspapers around the country.

The online model is quite different, and the details will be spared here and saved for another time. But immediacy is rarely required unless something monumental occurs, so usually the first story can wait for some depth, context, and texture from the players involved speaking in post-game locker rooms long after the final buzzer has sounded.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 28, however, there was no reason to wait. The Lakers were getting predictably shellacked in Game 4 of their first round playoff series against the Spurs, and the game was effectively over early in the second half. The brief initial story was done before the final buzzer, and only a couple of minor details needed to be included for the sake of accuracy.

The first was Dwight Howard intentionally getting ejected in a blowout of an elimination game, in what at the time appeared to be (and ultimately was) his last in a Lakers uniform. That moment was a microcosm of how he handled his entire season in Los Angeles, so it was somewhat fitting that he ultimately chose to bail on his teammates before the game was officially finished.

But there was a more important moment following Dwight’s ejection, and one that will resonate much longer than Howard’s ill-fated stint in Los Angeles.

Kobe Bryant emerged from the locker room on crutches after Howard had departed, early in the third quarter with the Lakers down by 30-plus points and the game having already been decided.

It was his first appearance since undergoing surgery to repair the torn Achilles that ended his season, and the Staples Center fans responded with a loud and passionate greeting that drowned out the disappointing basketball being played by what was left of their team on the floor below. 

Bryant was affected by the emotional outpouring, as detailed in a fantastic piece by Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated:

As he limps out, center Dwight Howard cruises in. “What the f— is going on?” Bryant asks a trainer. “Dwight got ejected,” he is informed. In the retelling, Bryant waits eight seconds to utter another word, looking as if he might literally bite his tongue. “Sports have a funny way of doing s— like that,” he says.

L.A. is about to be swept and Howard is about to leave for Houston, where he will forfeit $30 million and avoid discomfort. But Bryant is the rare modern athlete whose presence can transcend playoff results and free-agent decisions. Sometimes, just seeing him is enough. “The long year, the injuries, the Shaq stuff, the Phil stuff, it all came to a head when I walked out to the bench,” says Bryant, who was serenaded with a standing ovation and MVP chants. “It was the first time I ever felt that kind of love from a crowd. Oh, my God, I was fighting back the tears.”

It could be argued that Bryant has received that kind of love from the hometown faithful plenty of times over the 17 years he’s played in Los Angeles. But every time previously, it was in response to his on-court heroics, so in his mind, the adulation was deserved.

Only in this rarest of moments of vulnerability was Bryant truly moved by the reception he received.

Marcus Morris hits game-winning shot to send Celtics over Thunder (VIDEO)

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On a night without Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics still found a way to grind out a win.

As the rising Oklahoma City Thunder came to Massachusetts, a slow-scoring game evolved as a game of the NBA’s best defenses came together. Still, the Thunder were in the lead and looked to be on their way to their 44th win of the season.

But despite having a six-point lead with 24 seconds left, Oklahoma City choked an important game away late down the stretch.

It started with Jayson Tatum hitting a quick bucket with 17.6 seconds to go. Russell Westbrook was fouled, but missed one of his two free throws. That set the stage for Terry Rozier to hit a 3-pointer with 12.7 seconds left.

Then, astonishingly, Carmelo Anthony missed two straight free throws.

That’s when Marcus Morris stepped in:

Oof. You don’t expect Oklahoma City to come out flat like that against a depleted Celtics squad, and you certainly wouldn’t think they could clunk away the victory from the free-throw line.

It was a gutsy win for Boston and one of the worst losses of the season for the Thunder since the righted the ship around Christmas.

Royce White critical of how Rockets handled his mental health situation

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Royce White had an NBA story that was up-and-down, and complex. White, drafted by the Houston Rockets 16th overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, has a well-documented anxiety condition that disallowed him from flying with the team to games.

Things didn’t work out in Houston, and the last time White was in the NBA was during the 2013-14 season. He played a total of nine minutes in three games for the Sacramento Kings, and then White’s career was over.

Now, with the sudden influx of players making public their owns struggles with mental healthDeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love most recently — White has suddenly been thrust back into the conversation. While Ron Artest might be one of the first players of the modern era to openly speak about mental health, White is the go-to guy for comparative statements these days.

And, what White has to say isn’t all that great for the NBA or the Houston Rockets.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports’ Dan Devine, White said recently that he doesn’t believe the NBA truly cares about mental health just yet. Even further, White said he felt the Rockets and GM Daryl Morey were trying to guard themselves from a liability standpoint when the player and the team negotiated a deal to try to make things work with the Rockets.

Via Yahoo! Sports:

White says that Rockets personnel told him in 2012 that establishing a comprehensive written plan for managing his anxiety disorder would be “impossible,” because doing so would set a precedent “for any league-wide issue regarding mental health.” He says that, after negotiating with the Rockets and the NBA over allowing White to take a bus to certain games to reduce the number of flights he’d have to take in a season — a compromise he was told the league initially rejected because it would constitute an illegal circumvention of the salary cap — Houston deactivated him for the first preseason game he took a bus to, as a punishment for pressing the issue.

White says that, in a later meeting in which he and a team of medical professionals planned to present a draft of a mental health policy to be added to his contract, Houston general manager Daryl Morey said he didn’t know that White suffered from generalized anxiety disorder before drafting him.

It also made him feel like the Rockets might be trying to set up a way to void his guaranteed contract if he didn’t comply with their requirements.

“[Morey] was in a mode where he thought that he could bully me,” White said.

According to Devine, White also says he doesn’t think the most recent stories of mental health awareness will be the triggering factor in a new wave for the league. “White expressed skepticism that revelations by DeRozan, Kevin Love, Kelly Oubre and others would really lead to a sea change in the way the NBA addresses issues of mental health,” wrote Devine.

Vince Carter mocks Blake Griffin complaining to ref (video)

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What goes around came around for Blake Griffin, who hysterically impersonated Austin Rivers while both played for the Clippers.

As Griffin argued a foul he drew should have been a shooting foul during the Pistons’ win over the Kings last night, Vince Carter imitated him – not so flatteringly:

Carter just became a hero to referees everywhere tired of Griffin’s incessant complaining.

Rumor: Mark Jackson “hot name” to be Knicks next head coach

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This summer is going to be nothing like last summer. Way back in the summer of 2017, while you were desperately trying to avoid hearing again dancing to “Despacito,” NBA coaches were feeling safe — there was not one coaching change in the offseason.

Already this season Earl Watson in Phoenix and Jason Kidd in Milwaukee both were fired, and both of those teams will be conducting coaching searches this summer. The buzz around the league is there will be an opening in Orlando, too, and possibly Detroit depending on whether Stan Van Gundy wants to pull a Doc Rivers from last summer.

Then there’s the Knicks — Jeff Hornacek would like to know his status. Understandably. The scuttlebutt around the league is he may want to sharpen his resume and get in touch with a realtor, but nothing is official.

Marc Stein of the New York Times took it one step further in his weekly newsletter, saying former Warriors coach and current ABC/ESPN commentator — not to mention Knicks player — Mark Jackson would be at the front of the line to get the Knicks coaching job.

The former Knicks guard Mark Jackson keeps coming up as a hot name to succeed Hornacek, amid a growing belief the Knicks’ new front-office chief — Scott Perry — will want to install his own hand-picked choice heading into next season.

It’s difficult to fault Hornacek for much of the chaos that has engulfed the Knicks during his two seasons in charge. But there’s no avoiding the fact he was a Phil Jackson selection, which could well doom him now that the organization seems intent on cutting every non-Porzingian tie to the Phil era as possible.

Already there have been denials of a couple of things Stein had in his newsletter. The Pistons and Chauncey Billups both shot down the idea they have discussed a front office spot for him after Van Gundy is pushed out of the GM role, and Alex Lasry denied that the Bucks have a list that includes Jeff Van Gundy. So, use as much salt here as you would like with the Jackson rumor.

The Jackson-to-the-Knicks rumor makes some sense — Jackson built the defensive foundation on which the Warriors have won titles, and he’d be an easy sell to fans and any cantankerous owners who may have a say in the matter. However, the Knicks would be wise to do a broad search and get the best possible guy, not just the guy easiest to sell. Jackson was beloved by his players but pushed out in Golden State for legit reasons, all of which must be considered. Talk to the highly respected David Fizdale. Bring in Monty Williams. That’s just the top of the list, but the Knicks need to nail this — they have the hardest thing to get in building a team, a franchise cornerstone piece in Kristaps Porzingis, but they need to do a better job of creating a culture/foundation/system, and putting players that fit said system around KP. Also, once they pick a system, stick with it fully for at least three or four years — give it a chance to breathe.

It’s too early to call this anything other than a rumor, but it’s something to watch as we head to summer.