It’d be an oversimplification to say the Spurs lost Game 1 of the Western Conference finals yesterday because Kawhi Leonard got hurt.
But not much of one.
San Antonio outscored the Warriors by 21 with Leonard on the court and got outscored by 23 when he sat.
That puts Leonard in a rare class – helping his team outscore a playoff opponent by 20 with him on the court and still losing. There are just 11 such cases since 2001 (as far as Basketball-Reference records go back):
This wasn’t a team getting blitzed in the few minutes its star sat, the Thunder/Russell Westbrook special. This wasn’t a reserve who just happened to be on the court during two big runs.
This was the plan coming to fruition then a total disruption of that plan.
The Spurs led by 23 when Leonard got hurt in the third quarter, and they surely would’ve ridden him much more if he remained healthy. He left with 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting, eight rebounds and three assists – one of the most productive playoff games ever in such limited minutes – and a major “what if?”
Kobe Bryant said he traveled by helicopter to spend more time with kids
Traffic started getting really, really bad. Right? And I was sitting in traffic, and I wound up missing a school play, because I was sitting in traffic. And these things just kept mounting. I had to figure out a way where I could still train and focus on the craft, but still not compromise family time. And so that’s when I looked into helicopters and being able to get down and back in 15 minutes. And that’s when it started. So, my routine was always the same. Weights early in the morning, kids to school, fly down, practice like crazy, do my extra work, media, everything I needed to do, fly back, get back in the carpool line, pick the kids up. And my wife was like, “Listen, I can pick them up.” I’m like, “No, no, no. I want to do that.” Because you have road trips and times where you’re not – you don’t see your kids, you know? So, every chance I get to see them and spend time with them, even if it’s 20 minutes in the car, I want that.
The irony and tragedy of Bryant and his daughter dying in a helicopter crash is just gut-wrenching.
A few months ago, the Grizzlies thought so little of Josh Jackson, they didn’t even bring him to training camp. He remained on an NBA contract. Memphis gained no roster or salary-cap flexibility. The Grizzlies planned to send him to their minor-league affiliate, but the Hustle hadn’t yet opened their training camp. There was nowhere else for Jackson to be. The Grizzlies just didn’t want him around.
Now, Jackson will get his chance on the parent club.
The Memphis Grizzlies have recalled Josh Jackson from the NBA G League’s Memphis Hustle.
Jackson has appeared in 26 games for the Hustle this season and has averaged 20.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.5 blocks.
Magic Johnson – one of the NBA’s brightest stars – stood behind a podium, smiled and shook the world. Johnson had HIV and was retiring from the Lakers, he announced. Confusion, speculation and, most prominently, grief followed. Everyone thought he’d die. Charles Barkley said, “It’s kind of like somewhat of a death of a brother.” Larry Bird called it “probably the toughest day I’ve had since my father passed away, and I’ve been very depressed and sort of been out of it.” Pat Riley called for a moment of silence before a game.
More than 28 years later, Johnson mourned Kobe Bryant.
Bryant’s death yesterday was the tragedy everyone believed Johnson’s diagnosis to be. Sudden. Crushing. Unbelievable. All the same emotions came pouring out. Except this time there was no mistaking the finality.
Johnson has continued living, thriving, inspiring. He’s a renowned businessman, beloved celebrity and fantastic ambassador for basketball. It’s the type of retirement expected for Bryant, because why wouldn’t it be?
The NBA has grown accustomed to its titans aging gracefully. Unlike baseball, the NBA hasn’t existed long enough for multiple generations of old-timers to pass away. Unlike football, the NBA doesn’t subject its players to such traumatic physical tolls.
Just two MVPs in all of NBA history had died, Wilt Chamberlain (age 63 in 1999) and Moses Malone (age 60 in 2015), and those deaths felt far too soon.
Bryant was only 41.
Just four All-Stars died younger. Don Sunderlage was in a car crash at age 31 in 1961. Maurice Stokes suffered a head injury during a game, became paralyzed then – after teammate Jack Twyman cared for him for 12 years – died at age 36 in 1970. Pete Maravich had a heart issue while playing pickup basketball at age 40 in 1988. Reggie Lewis suffered a heart attack during what should have been the midst of his career at age 27 in 1993.
Lewis – like Len Bias (who died of a cocaine overdose at age 22 in 1986) and Drazen Petrovic (who died in a car crash at age 28 in 1993) – never got to fulfill their potentials. That creates its own kind of anguish.
There is no analogue to Bryant’s death.
Bryant’s accomplishments – one MVP, five championships, two NBA Finals MVPs, 11 All-NBA first teams, two All-NBA second teams, two All-NBA third teams and 18 All-Star appearances – place him among the very greatest of all-time greats. No player anywhere near that stature had ever died anywhere near this young.
Bryant could be charming and ruthless, sometimes simultaneously. His play and conduct earned him loyal fans and harsh critics. The never-ending Kobe debates seemed only to inflame the passion of his supporters.
Few adored him like fellow NBA players. They admired his skill and determination. He responded by mentoring many. It’s difficult to overstate just how cherished Bryant was in this league.
Few understand the cold realities of the NBA like Austin Rivers. He grew up with his father, Doc Rivers, frequently gone playing and coaching. As a result, they aren’t particularly close. Now an NBA player himself, Austin speaks of their distant relationship with far more acceptance than wistfulness. He’s too focused on competing to do much else.
Yesterday, Austin cried on the court:
Then, explained how little he cared about the Rockets losing a basketball game:
Others shed tears in arenas around the country. The NBA could have cancelled yesterday’s games. Playing while grieving proved difficult for many.
There was just no good way to handle the loss. Mere moments of silence felt insufficient.
The Spurs and Raptors began their game yesterday with shot-clock violations in honor of his No. 24. Other teams exchanged a shot-clock violation and eight-second violation in honor of his other number. Trae Youngwore No. 8.
My new motto with everything is, What Would Kobe do? He’d want us to focus more on the loss of his daughter. He’d want us to get past differences with our brothers and move on. He’d never want the game to be cancelled or be stopped. He’d want us to keep going! #RIPKOBE🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾