Orlando Magic players and coaches remember Kobe Bryant a year after his tragic death

Kobe Bryant celebrated his legacy-defining NBA championship on the Orlando Magic's parquet floor. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Kobe Bryant celebrated his legacy-defining NBA championship on the Orlando Magic's parquet floor. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images) /

A year has gone by, but there still is disbelief that goes through the minds of millions of fans across the globe who watched one of the greatest basketball players of all time taken away so tragically.

Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif., a year ago Tuesday. The deadly crash stunned the world and quickly saddened anyone who knew him.

The Orlando Magic played the LA Clippers that night at the Amway Center. No one was sure if the league would push through and play that day. An emotional Doc Rivers cried as he let out the emotions he had himself, of his players in his locker room, likely of the players in the Magic’s locker room and fans in that building and around the world.

The Magic and Clippers both seemed to play in a daze that night — a blowout 112-97 Clippers win. The only moment of clarity was the 24-second and eight-second violations both teams took in Bryant’s memory.

Even if you did not personally know Bryant like several of his teammates, you still felt the pain for his family during his passing. The Magic players were affected by the tragedy as well.

Even a year later, that pain is still felt acutely.

The league commemorated the year anniversary of Kobe Bryant’s tragic death this week. His presence is still felt in the league as everyone plays in his memory.

Aaron Gordon wore a jacket that has Mamba Forever and a graphic of the snake on the back. Gordon like many NBA players looked up to Bryant because of the way he approached the game and the fact that he was a mirror of the greatest to ever play.

Gordon was invited along with several other young players in the NBA to work with Bryant during the summer of 2019 at The Mamba Academy. Gordon said he treasured the experienced and reportedly looked good during the camps. He was looking forward to more sessions working out with the NBA legend.

Like so many more gifts Bryant had yet to give to the game — especially to women’s basketball through his daughter Gianna and the team he coached — his time was cut tragically short.

For many NBA fans around the nation, Bryant’s death was the beginning of a series of bad news in 2020, a start of a bizarre year followed by a worldwide pandemic.

Not only did Bryant have an effect on the NBA, he touched the entire sports world planting the Mamba Mentality in the minds of young athletes around the world. In the minds of some fans, he is the closest thing to Michael Jordan in terms of sheer determination, competitiveness, excellence and attitude that basketball embodies.

Even Jordan himself had a tearful message for the historical Laker, a person he considered like a little brother, a player he knew idolized him as a child.

Kobe Bryant’s historical 20-year career included a matchup against the Magic back in the 2009 NBA Finals when Dwight Howard was considered the best center in basketball. That year Charles Barkley picked the Magic to defeat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in seven games even though the Magic did not have homecourt advantage or a player on their team who could matchup with him.

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  • That Finals series in 2009 ended in five games and was the second and last time the Magic made an NBA Finals. The organization is desperately trying to get back to that top of the Eastern Conference right now with two consecutive playoff appearances in the last two years.

    As we remember Kobe Bryant’s legacy, we cannot forget the times Tracy McGrady matched up with the Laker great. Although the two Hall-of-Fame shooting guards never met in the Finals, those regular-season battles between Kobe and T-Mac were epic.

    One that comes to mind was in March 2004 when Kobe scored 24 points in the fourth quarter to beat Orlando. That game McGrady scored 37 points, but Bryant scored 38, he always seemed as if he was trying to outscore the best player on the other team.

    Magic players and coaches remember Bryant like assistant coach Tyrone Corbin who coached against Bryant while the head coach of the Utah Jazz back in 2012. Coach Steve Clifford still remembers Kobe Bryant fondly, having coached him in the 2013 season under Mike D’Antoni.

    Clifford often marvels at Bryant’s work ethic and intensity. He said no one prepared like Bryant did and it raised everyone’s game.

    The Magic need to embrace the Mamba Mentality more than ever as they are attempting to compete in a loaded Eastern Conference.

    More than that though, it is still clear how much Bryant’s presence impacts the current generation of players and the league at large. Even a year after the world lost him.