The Atlanta Hawks hosted the Washington Wizards Sunday evening, with the game becoming a backdrop for a more serious issue: the passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash that occurred this morning in Southern California.
Lloyd Pierce was very emotional when making his pre-game remarks, sharing that his cousin was also killed in a helicopter crash in 1998.
“In ‘98, I lost my cousin,” Pierce said. “He was a pilot in the Navy, stationed in San Diego, Coronado and he was in a helicopter crash. His widow comes to every game, she lives here in Atlanta. Two sons. It was March 1998. My senior year of college. I told you guys I did a breakfast club this year with our group and I’ve never been able to talk about my cousin. I talked to our guys in the breakfast club about that and I just told the guys. One thing I failed to mention is that to this day, I still have a hard time looking at helicopters. There are just certain things you don’t get over. Today is that day.”
Pierce continued to speak on the legacy Bryant not only made on the NBA, but the work he was doing for the women’s game with his daughter Gianna.
“I never had a personal relationship with Kobe,” Pierce said of Bryant. “He’s spoken to me a bunch of times and he’s always told me he respects me, he respects the work that I’ve done and he’s watching me from afar as a head coach and as an assistant. He said it to me in Philly, he said it to me in LA. It’s who Kobe is and what I know of Kobe. What I respect the most is, I grew up on the west coast, I’m a Lakers fan as a child and I had to denounce being a Lakers fan once you get into the profession, but I’ve always respected his greatness because of his detail and his passion and the intensity with which he plays. But there’s nothing more than the respect I have for him as a father. Every image you see of him post-retirement is with his daughters and with his family. Everything you see online on Twitter is about positivity.
“He’s encouraging others, retweeting positive comments to others,” Pierce continued. “I think it’s been the biggest transformation of a competitor to a human being that I’ve ever seen and that’s the sad part about today. He was someone that everyone looks up to, especially this generation of players, and to see the way he was coming out of retirement and playing to just being a leader of people: WNBA, AAU programs, children’s books. We lost a leader. It’s hard. Our locker room is shaken, the NBA is shaken, the community is shaken, everyone is, because at the end of the day, you respect what he’s been able to accomplish for so many years and in so many different ways.”
With many discussing whether the Hawks and Wizards (along with the rest of the NBA) should play at all on Sunday, both Atlanta’s ownership and Pierce expressed the difficulty and magnitude of the situation.
“Today’s tough, as a competitor in our sport, it’s really tough to navigate through today,” Pierce said. “Should we play, shouldn’t we play is not up to me. Today is not going to be the end of mourning. It’s really just the start. I told our guys in there, ‘I’m not a high-low guy’ and why, and they understood that. Because of the breakfast club, they know my story. But it’s a reminder of perspective, as to why and to what’s most important. The now is most important. The who. Who do you need to say hello to? Who do you need to reach out to? The perspective of all of this is tough because Kobe’s untouchable in a lot of those guys’ eyes.”
“When we speak of greatness, we speak of the accomplishments. What any competitor knows about Kobe is the work and the detail....You think of greatness, it’s not just the accomplishments, it’s what he poured into it.”
The Atlanta Hawks, Washington Wizards and all of State Farm Arena honored the Bryant’s with a moment of silence prior to tip. Following the silence, a “Kobe” chant broke out amongst the crowd.
State Farm Arena honors Kobe Bryant with a moment of silence. Crowd chants “Kobe” afterwards. pic.twitter.com/A3y8j80LSG— zach (@zachho0d) January 26, 2020
The Hawks and Wizards, along with other teams playing tonight around the league, started the game with simultaneous 8- and 24-second violations to further honor Bryant, Gianna and the rest of the victims.
The @ATLHawks opened tonight's game with an 8-second backcourt violation and the @WashWizards took a 24-second shot clock violation to honor the two numbers Kobe Bryant wore during his NBA career. pic.twitter.com/aaiEz1Y0Yf— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 26, 2020
As a personal tribute, Trae Young came out wearing Bryant’s No. 8, then changed back to 11 after the pair of violations. Gianna was huge fan of Young and had attended two Hawks games this season to watch the star.
Trae Young began tonight's game against the Wizards wearing a No. 8 jersey, a tribute to his late idol Kobe Bryant pic.twitter.com/ZrqE9fiWZr— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 26, 2020
Bryant is obviously a legend of the sport, and the loss of he and Gianna has been felt around the world. Rest in Peace to both of them along with the other seven victims and prayers to all families affected by the tragedy.
As far as the basketball goes, it was the high-scoring affair many would expect when these two teams take the floor. After a back and forth start, the Hawks asserted control late in the first half. De’Andre Hunter added 14 first-half points as the Hawks led 78-72 at the break.
The Hawks scored 47 points in the second quarter, their highest scoring quarter as a franchise since 1997, and that pushed them to a season-high point total in the first half.
Young was hot early, with 21 points and ten assists in the first half, including a memorable halfcourt shot to beat the 2nd quarter buzzer.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow.— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 27, 2020
Trae Young is inspired.
Halftime buzzer beater.
21 points and 10 assists at the half. pic.twitter.com/3ew39yFAcQ
The scoring did not slow down for Atlanta in the third, with a 24-4 extended run leaving the Hawks up 98-77 with 8:23 left in the third quarter. Washington struggled to cut into the deficit, with the Hawks offense proving to be too much throughout the bulk of the period. The Wizards made a mini-push late in the period but still trailed 119-102 heading to the fourth.
Washington tried to make it a game in the fourth, but a pair of loud dunks from John Collins put the Hawks up 127-106 with 8:49 remaining, a margin the Wizards would ultimately not be able to overcome. The Hawks never stopped scoring, winning 152-133.
The trajectory of this rebound took John higher than ever for a putback. pic.twitter.com/uL4xLJDaeq— FOX Sports: Hawks (@HawksOnFSSE) January 27, 2020
Young finished with 45 points, 14 assists and six rebounds in the win. Hunter added 25 points on 8-of-11 from the floor, while Bruno Fernando posted career highs in both points (14) and rebounds (12).
It was ultimately a historic offensive performance for Atlanta, with 152 points being the most points the Hawks have scored in a regulation game since 1970.
Bradley Beal led Washington with 40 points and six assists.