Frank Vogel Says Kobe Bryant's Death Has Been 'Extremely Emotional' For The Lakers
Lakers' coach Frank Vogel pulled each player aside one-by-one on their flight home from Philadelphia on Sunday to tell them Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died in a helicopter crash that morning along with seven other people.
The next couple of days were a blur.
"I'm around the people who were closest to Kobe during his time here and it's been just a deeply saddening time for all of us," Vogel said Wednesday at the team's first media availability since Bryant's death.
Vogel collaborated with the Lakers' leaders about how they wanted to handle the last few days. He credited them for "helping the group manage their emotions and get through this."
"He was the most feared man in the league for an entire generation," Vogel said. "The influence is profound league-wide, basketball community-wide, world-wide, Lakers family-wide."
The Lakers came together Tuesday for a closed shootaround -- and a therapy session of sorts.
"I wanted our guys to come in primarily free, but to get a sweat, touch the ball, to be around each other," Vogel said. "And then we had a lunch where we all just spent time together and grieved together."
Bryant's jersey numbers, No. 8 and 24, were lit up on the wall of the team's practice facility Wednesday. Vogel was the only one who spoke after telling the players that they didn't have to talk until they were ready.
Vogel said the Lakers, who have the best record in the Western Conference at 36-10, were like a family before Bryant's death -- and that hasn't changed.
"It's just strengthened what we've felt all year about our current group," Vogel said. "We've become a family in a very short time. 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. We understand the importance and the opportunity that we have this year. This has just brought us closer together."
In an emotionally-charged Instagram post Monday, James promised Bryant he wouldn’t let him down, writing, "I promise I'll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here, especially #LakerNation and it's my responsibility to put this s*** on my back and keep it going!!"
Vogel echoed that sentiment Wednesday, saying the Lakers will persevere despite this tragedy.
"I don't think it could break us apart in any way," Vogel said.
Vogel wasn't ready to answer a couple questions about Bryant, including what he'd tell him if he had the chance, and what his favorite memory was of him.
But he did say this season will be for Bryant.
"We want to represent what Kobe was about more than anything," Vogel said. "We always wanted to make him proud and that's not going to be any different here."
The NBA canceled the Lakers' game against the Clippers on Tuesday. Vogel said he hopes Friday's game against Portland will be therapeutic for the team.
Vogel, who has two daughters, said this tragedy has really affected him. He deeply identified with Bryant, the father.
"Him being a father to daughters [and] being involved in their sports was the most incredible thing in his life, from my observations," Vogel said. "And it's the most important thing in my life. I love being the coach of the Lakers. But it doesn't come close to comparing to my family time."
He didn't hesitate when asked what was the first thing he did when he got off the plane Sunday after delivering such horrific news to 17 people.
"I went home and hugged my family," he said.