Lakers star Kobe Bryant and Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue exchange greetings before a game in 2016. (Harry How / Getty Images)
The collage of photos Tyronn Lue has of him and Kobe Bryant were pulled off the walls of the Clippers coach’s home in Las Vegas once he learned about the death of a friend he revered.
Even though the collection of pictures were from their glory days as teammates with the Lakers, the pain of seeing those images each day was too much for Lue to bear.
It still pains Lue to talk about how Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, 2020.
His office at the Clippers’ training facility is bare, not a picture in sight, so on a recent day Clippers assistant general manager Mark Hughes suggested to Lue that he put up some photos.
“Mark Hughes came in the other day and said, ‘You got to get something in here.’ I said, ‘Well, what am I going to put up?’ He said, ‘Just anything. You won a championship with the Lakers and you won in Cleveland. Kobe,’” Lue said. “I said, ‘I’m not putting Kobe up.’ I know I got to get past it where I can do it. But I can’t come into my office and look at Kobe every day, man. Like, I just don’t know how I’m going to react.”
Lue shared pictures of the two sitting on the bench together in dress clothes because they were out with injuries at the start of the 1999-2000 season. Lue also shared a photo of him and Bryant about to exchange a high-five during a timeout.
There is so much joy seen between Lue and Bryant from the moments they shared as teammates playing on a dominant Lakers squad, from the bond they developed as the two of the youngest members from those championship days.
Kobe Bryant, left, and Tyronn Lue catch up after Lue had left the Lakers and eventually landed with the Magic. (Phelan Ebenhack / Associated Press)
Yet, reliving those moments is too emotional for Lue.
“In my house in Las Vegas, I have pictures of me and Kob. I took it down, man,” Lue said. “It’s crazy, I know, but I just can’t look at it. It puts me in a bad place. You look at it and then all the memories with Kob. I got to get better at it, because the older you get, the more death is coming. But I’m just not ready yet.”
Lue was in Orlando when he got the news about Bryant’s death.
Lue had awakened from a nap to see that fellow Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell had called repeatedly and that his “boys from back” home had also been calling , leaving Lue to wonder, “What the hell is up?”
Lue eventually called Cassell, who was trying to verify the news about Bryant’s helicopter crashing into a hillside near Calabasas while on his way to a youth basketball game.
“Man, I dropped my phone and I just sat there on the edge of the bed and I was scared to turn the TV on,” Lue said. “As soon as I turned it on, it was all over the place. … I just couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘No, not Kob.’ As soon as the helicopter hit the ground, I expected him to get up and walk away, you know what I mean? That’s just who he was, from shooting two airballs in the playoffs against Utah [in 1997] to coming back and being a five-time champion and two-time Finals MVP. Like, that’s just who he is. He always bounces back from anything. No matter what the situation, he bounces back.”
With the anniversary of Bryant’s death on the horizon, there have plenty of tributes, one of which recently caught the attention of Lue.
“They were just showing the top 10 highlights of Kobe on NBA TV and I turned that so quick,” Lue said. “I was at home. I had to turn it.”
Lue paused and took a deep breath, his voice on the phone lowering as the conversation continued about Bryant.
As the interview was concluding, Lue started to collect his thoughts and decided he would honor Bryant.
“You know what? After the conversation with you, I’m going to put my pictures of Kobe up in my office. I’m going to see. I’m going to see how I handle it. I don’t know,” Lue said. “You got to be able to celebrate him as well. In talking to a few people, they say, ‘You have to celebrate him so he won’t be forgotten.’ He won’t ever be forgotten. They said I could help carry on his legacy. I never thought about it like that. I might try it. It might bring me some happiness seeing Kob.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
Published: 2021-01-24 13:00:28