Serbia finished a disappointing fifth in the FIBA World Cup in China last summer (which means they need to go through a qualifying tournament for the 2020 Olympics). That despite having arguably the best player in the tournament in Nikola Jokic and the leading scorer in the tournament (in total points) in Bogdan Bogdanovic.
After that, coach Aleksandar Djordjevic stepped down, and former Suns’ head coach, now Kings’ assistant coach, Igor Kokoskov was hired to replace him. Now Kokoskov will have Nuggets coach Mike Malone working with him. Via Mark Stein of the New York Times:
The Serbian basketball federation is in advanced discussions with Mike Malone to hire the Nuggets' coach as a top aide and consultant to Serbia head coach and Kings assistant Igor Kokoskov for this summer's Olympic campaign, according to league sources
The hiring has since been confirmed by sources in Europe.
This seems a smart hire on a couple of levels. First, Malone knows Jokic’s game as well as anyone, which includes how to keep him motivated and focused. Denver uses Jokic as the fulcrum of the offense and we should expect Serbia to do more of that.
Malone, and Kokoskov, also will bring more of an NBA style to Serbia. They need that. At the World Cup, Djordjevic treated the Serbian team like a European-league team — those teams don’t have the elite, standout talents of an NBA team (players such as Jokic), so they focus on balanced scoring and spread out the minutes. Jokic was not used as the fulcrum of the offense but an interchangeable part.
Look at the international teams that thrived at the World Cup — Spain, France, Australia — and they played more of an NBA style with a heavy reliance on their best players. Talent still wins out in basketball and Serbia took the ball out of their star’s hands in China.
Don’t expect the same thing this summer.
Serbia will go to Tokyo as one of the second-tier favorites (a stacked USA team will be the clear favorites), along with France and Spain. Serbia should be thinking medal podium in Tokyo, and adding Malone to the staff will help with that.
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). 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 – 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 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🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾
After his fourth-round loss to Rafael Nadal, Kyrgios – wearing a different Kobe jersey – shared his perspective on Bryant:
Basketball is practically my life, and I watch it every day, and I’ve been following it for as long as I can remember.
If anything, it motivated me. If you look at the things he stood for and what he wanted to be remembered by, I felt like, if anything, it helped me tonight.
I’m a Celtics fan, and so when I saw Kobe do what he does and break the hearts of so many Celtics fans, it was tough to see. But I don’t think they make them like him anymore. He was different. The way he trained, the way he did things, the way he played was special. It’s just sad.
Reports: Kobe Bryant’s helicopter was in holding pattern, advised of flying too low
As the flight towers try to assist in the helicopter landing, they are cautioned about the “overcast” weather and their low flight level, meaning they were dangerously close to the ground.
“You’re still too low level for flight following at this time,” the flight toward warned the pilot on the audio.
Bryant’s helicopter was reportedly traveling north along the 118 freeway, turned west and followed the 101 freeway. After hitting heavy fog around 9:40 a.m., the helicopter turned south and made a steep climb from 1200 feet to 2000 feet.
Moments later they reportedly flew into the mountain at 1700 feet and the vehicle was traveling at 161 knots.
There’s still more to learn, including whether the helicopter had mechanical issues. Perhaps, we’ll never get that answer. If we do, it won’t change anything.
Still, it feels natural to search for greater understanding of this inexplicable tragedy.