El Segundo, Calif. — Wednesday’s practice started off like any other practice for the Los Angeles Lakers and the attending media members. Cars were let in at the south gate of the UCLA Health Training Center on Mariposa Ave., and credentials were checked at the entrance.
However, unlike every other practice this season, there were purple and gold flowers, a whiteboard that extended the length of building, and pictures of Kobe Bryant, who tragically passed away in a helicopter crash on Sunday morning in Calabasas. The memorial has been up since Sunday, but Wednesday marked the Lakers’ first full practice since then.
As such, the building was as packed as any normal team’s media day, with everyone waiting to hear from the team’s stars, many of whom were close to Bryant, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Understandably, James and Davis declined to speak to the media, as did the other 15 players on the roster.
The only person that was made available to the media on Wednesday was Frank Vogel, who spent six of his years as a head coach trying to plan for Bryant.
“He was the most feared man in the league for an entire generation,” Vogel said after practice on Wednesday. “The influence is league-wide, basketball community-wide, Lakers family-wide and his influence will be felt forever.”
The Lakers were on a plane back to Los Angeles from Philadelphia when the news of Bryant’s death broke, and he wanted to make sure that everyone knew, as hard it was to deliver the news.
“I’m around the people that were closest to Kobe throughout his time here and it’s been just a deeply saddening time for all of us,” Vogel said.
Vogel said he’ll let his players decide when they’re ready to talk again.
The affect Bryant’s death had on the team resulted in Tuesday’s game against the Clippers being postponed by the NBA at the request of the Lakers. But while they didn’t play on Tuesday, they still got together for a light shootaround, followed by a lunch, where players, coaches and team staff shared their fond memories of Bryant.
It was crucial step in the team’s healing process, and an experience Vogel thinks made the locker room closer.
“It’s just strengthened what we’ve felt all year about our current group, which is: We’ve become a family in a very short time,” Vogel said of his team. “It’s something you talk about in the NBA with your teams, but this group in particular has really grown to love each other very rapidly, and we understand the importance of the opportunity we have this year, and this has just brought us closer together.”
The Lakers are scheduled to play a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday. Vogel knows that Friday’s game will be emotional because of how fresh the tragedy is, but he said that the team will carry on the season the way they have been, and that’s with Bryant in mind.
“We want to represent what Kobe was about more than anything,” Vogel said. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud and that’s not going to be any different here.”