Los Angeles, January 27: The NBA came together to mourn and honour Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna on a solemn Sunday (January 26).
Though all eight games went ahead as scheduled, a dark shadow clouded the on-court action after Los Angeles Lakers legend Bryant, 13-year-old Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California around 10am local time.
Games across the league began with intentional 24-second violations as players recognised the number Bryant wore throughout the second half of his illustrious career, a number Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said his team would never use again.
Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young took to the floor in the number eight jersey the five-time NBA champion adopted following his arrival at the Lakers in 1996 and proceeded to do him proud, dropping 45 points and 14 assists in a 152-133 win over the Washington Wizards.
"One of the last conversations we had, he was just telling me how much he's seen my game progress, being happy for me, saying how proud he was of me and how he wants me to continue to be a role model for kids growing up," an emotional Young later told a news conference.
The San Antonio Spurs lost to the Toronto Raptors 110-106 but head coach Gregg Popovich summed up the mood, telling reporters: "Good game. Tough loss. Who cares? Everyone's pretty emotional with the tragedy about Kobe."
Zion reflects after major milestone
Amid the mourning emerged some uplifting performances befitting one of the league's greatest ever scorers.
Zion Williamson marked his third NBA appearance with a first double-double, the number one overall draft pick contributing 21 points and 11 rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans' 123-108 victory against the Boston Celtics.
"Kobe meant a lot to me growing up. I had both jerseys, the eight and the 24," Williamson said. "It's tough. I was on the way to the arena when I got the news. I just send my prayers to his family."
Damian Lillard became the first player in Portland Trail Blazers history to score 40 or more points in three successive games, the point guard hitting 50 on 14-of-23 shooting in a 139-129 win over the Indiana Pacers.
Kawhi Leonard put up a game-high 31 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Orlando Magic 112-97.
"I know he would have wanted him me to come out here and try to ball and still just be great," he told ESPN. "That's what I tried to do. Everybody is sad."
Kyrie sits out
Madison Square Garden, where Bryant memorably scored 61 points in a single game in 2009, dimmed its lights and fell silent before the Brooklyn Nets' 110-97 loss to the New York Knicks.
Kyrie Irving was a notable absentee, the Nets guard having shared a close relationship with his former mentor.
Another of the NBA's new generation of stars, Ben Simmons, said the world had "lost a legend".
"Kobe Bryant was someone who I looked up to, a fierce competitor, a champion, an icon," Simmons tweeted.
Respects paid in New Orleans
The Pelicans and the Celtics were among the teams who each took 24-second violations to honour Bryant.
The New Orleans Pelicans and the Boston Celtics started the game by each taking 24-second shot-clock violations in honor of Kobe Bryant. pic.twitter.com/AA3ntFpLtc— NBA (@NBA) January 27, 2020
Denver Nuggets 117-110 Houston Rockets
Toronto Raptors 110-106 San Antonio Spurs
Atlanta Hawks 152-133 Washington Wizards
Memphis Grizzlies 114-109 Phoenix Suns
New Orleans Pelicans 123-108 Boston Celtics
New York Knicks 110-97 Brooklyn Nets
Los Angeles Clippers 112-97 Orlando Magic
Portland Trail Blazers 139-129 Indiana Pacers
Rockets at Jazz
Monday brings the chance to focus on a big game in the Western Conference, with the second-placed Utah Jazz (32-13) to host the sixth-placed Houston Rockets (28-17).